Let the Sunshine In! Why you need some Vitamin D!
Vitamin D is frequently called the “sunshine vitamin.” Every tissue in the body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles and immune system. It assists with the absorption of calcium helping to build strong bones, teeth and muscles. It also activates genes that regulate the immune system and release neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) that affect brain function and development. Researchers are also uncovering links between Vitamin D levels and mood and depression.
Recent reports show that populations around the world are suffering from vitamin D deficiency and Ireland is no different. Not only has it emerged that there is widespread low levels of Vitamin D in the general population, there have been over 20 cases of rickets in infants and toddlers reported in the last four or five of years.
So what contributes to Vitamin D deficiency?
The best source of Vitamin D is from the sun which is absorbed through our skin. However, because of our northerly latitude, the quality and quantity of sunlight in our winter months is not sufficient enough for the production of the vitamin by the body. Not only are there less hours of daylight in winter, even in the summer months we get cloudy days and people are usually working indoors for most of the day, are driving cars and are using sunscreen when outside. So the chances of getting vitamin D from sunlight exposure has decreased.
You can get vitamin D from dietary sources such as oily fish, egg yolks, offal meat (such as kidney and liver) and from fortified foods such as milk. However a lot of people don’t eat these foods and even if they do they are not eaten in sufficient quantities to counter the lack of sun exposure.
So what can you do?
In the winter months, I’d recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement. It’s important to make sure the brand you choose is high quality and that the supplement includes D3 which is the form normally found in humans. I take mine in the liquid form and take it with some fat (coconut oil) as it is a fat soluble vitamin so the fat helps with its absorption.
You can increase your intake of the dietary sources of Vitamin D. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are also great sources of omega 3’s and offal meat is some of the most nutrient dense foods out there. However as offal meat is quite high in Vitamin A, they aren’t advised for pregnant women or infants.
Then in the summer months, try to get out in the sunshine for at least 20 minutes between the hours of 12noon and 2pm when the sun is at its highest. The best days are those days when there is little or no cloud and there is direct sunlight.
Resist the sun protection for these 20 minutes (shock horror!) and let the sunshine be absorbed by the skin. If you can resist showering and using shower gel for a good few hours after this then all the better as it takes time for the skin to absorb the vitamin D. A good tip is to get the sun on your legs as even if you do shower later in the day you are less likely to use shower gel on that part of your body as opposed to your upper body. Once your 20 minutes is up feel free to put on your sun protection as normal!