The benefits and positive health attributes the sun can offer us often gets overshadowed by the terrifying truth about sun damage to our skin and the dangers of skin cancer.
Vitamin D is produced in the body as a result of exposure to the sun, the benefits to our health from this exposure are well worth a few minutes out in the sunshine.
Vitamin D, actually a hormone rather than a vitamin, has multiple roles in the body which help to do the following:
Maintain the health of bones and teeth
To maintain healthy bones, phosphorous and calcium levels in the blood must be regulated, Vitamin D plays a big role in keeping these levels balanced. It can also prevent softening of the bones during child development which can cause rickets, or in adults, osteoporosis.
Support the health of the immune system, brain, and nervous system
Many studies show the reduced risk of infection in those with sufficient levels of vitamin D, reducing the risk of winter viruses, such as influenza, by as much as 40%.
Regulate insulin levels and aid diabetes management
Studies have shown that insufficient Vitamin D levels can negatively affect the secretion of insulin hormones in the body. A lack of Vitamin D can also affect glucose tolerance.
Influence the expression of genes involved in cancer development
Vitamin D is extremely important for regulating cell growth and for cell-to-cell communication. Some studies have suggested that Calcitriol (the hormonally active form of vitamin D) can reduce cancer progression by slowing the growth and development of new blood vessels in cancerous tissue, increasing cancer cell death, and reducing cell proliferation and metastases. Vitamin D influences more than 200 human genes, which could be impaired when we do not have enough vitamin D.
Reduce the risk of Multiple Sclerosis and Heart Disease.
Studies have shown that a healthy intake of Vitamin D can help to reduce the risk of developing these life threatening conditions.
How can we get enough?
We can use supplements or diet to source vitamin D as it isn’t created naturally by our body, however an easier way (and the most efficient) is to take 10 minutes out of the day and absorb some sunlight. Your skin must be exposed for the body to synthesise the rays and 10 minutes a day a few times a week is considered sufficient.
Wearing high protection factor sun creams will limit the absorption therefore it is recommended to take the sun when it is not at its strongest; early morning or late afternoon, for up to ten minutes without sun factor, or if you have sensitive or high risk skin type, use a low factor (15 or below). The skin must be directly exposed; not covered by any clothing. Darker skin tone also limits the intake of Vitamin D as do high pollution levels and living in northern latitudes.
Vitamin D deficiency is actually extremely common, especially in cooler climates, and so it is definitely something to keep in mind when considering your health (and where to go on holiday!).
Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources. Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
If you are unable to source your Vitamin D from the sun, or foods, you can use supplements; the recommended daily intake is as follows:
- children and teens: 600 IU
- adults: 600 IU
- adults over 70: 800 IU
- pregnant or breastfeeding women: 600 IU
Vitamin D deficiency is more common than you might think, it is interesting to know that something so simple as not getting enough sunlight on your body can be detrimental to your health.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency:
- Getting sick or infected more often
- Painful bones and back
- Depressed mood
- Impaired wound healing
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
If Vitamin D deficiency continues for long periods of time it can result in:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease
Vitamin D deficiency may also contribute to the development of certain cancers, especially breast, prostate and colon cancers.
It is important to recognise that a healthy balance of all necessary vitamins and minerals is essential to our well being. Something as basic as a few rays of sun can make all the difference to leading a healthy, happy life.
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