Good Morning Sunshine: Just How Much Vitamin D Are You Really Getting?

Here comes the sun

Sunny days are here again but is it really going to lift your spirits, or your health? Vitamin D deficiency is linked to many illnesses including depression and schizophrenia, and is known to be the result of inadequate exposure to sunlight.

Chances are if you had a blood test for anything recently, the level of Vitamin D in your blood was tested at the same time, and if you are one of about 70% of us “Sunburnt Country-ites” your levels were below the level needed for good bone health, or worse, like 30% of the country your levels were deficient. So what does this all mean, and probably most importantly, what are the implications of this?

You all know that one of the reasons for this situation is that over the last few years Australians have been urged to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ all the time, or even to avoid going out in the sun altogether. Now with the discovery of just how widespread the problem of low Vitamin D levels is, and growing awareness of the important role that it plays in the prevention of so many diseases, the advice regarding sun exposure has suddenly been dramatically changed.

Vitamin D is n fact not actually a vitamin but rather a hormone which is made by your body.  But it needs sunlight to trigger production of the Vitamin D precursor in your skin.

There are two types of UV light rays, UVA and UVB.  Both can trigger skin cancers, but UVA have long wavelengths that reach into the deeper layers of your skin while UVB rays are shorter and only get into the surface layers. More importantly, UVB rays are the only ones that contribute to Vitamin D production. UVB rays are more intense in the middle of the day and decrease at either end of the day while UVA rays stay constant through the day. This is why the recommendation has changed and it is now is to get your sun exposure at lunchtime. By going out in the sun at that time you get more exposure to the UVB rays relative to the UVA rays and so get greater Vitamin D benefit from the same exposure, “more bang for your buck”, so to speak.

Evidence  shows that our connection between sunlight exposure and melanoma has previously been far too simple as it seems that Vitamin D is the factor that actually assists our bodies in not developing skin cancers. This actually makes good sense when you remember that we evolved to live harmoniously with sunlight long before sunscreen came along. By always coating in sunscreen and avoiding the sun we do not have adequate levels of Vitamin D to gain the protection we need.

Short exposure in the middle of the day is best

The new recommendation is to go out in the sun in the middle of the day, with face and arms uncovered, for only the amount of time that it takes for your skin to just begin to feel like it is going to start ‘pinking up’. Of course this is going to differ for each of us, with fairer skinned people needing very little exposure and darker skinned maybe three to four times as much. Every time we are outside we have some sun exposure, and even when inside cars or buildings we are getting exposure as UVA rays can pass through glass. Unfortunately, UVB rays that activate Vitamin D do not pass through, something worth remembering when the sun streams through the car windows.

The most recent figures that I have for the number of Australians deficient in Vitamin D are about 30-50% with 75% having levels too low for optimal bone health. These high figures are very surprising for citizens of the Sunburnt Country. I read recently that in order to get enough sun exposure to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels in Melbourne during July one would have to be outside in the middle of the day, fully naked for twenty minutes. As the temperature at lunchtime in July is often no more than a mighty eleven or twelve degrees, I will not be trying that out. Because those with dark skin need so much more time to get adequate Vitamin D from sun exposure they are more at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.  Obviously it is easier to get sufficient exposure further north and more difficult down in Tasmania.

I normally stress that vitamins and minerals are best obtained from foods. Although there are small amounts of Vitamin D available in a few food including oily fish, mushrooms, and eggs (you would need 10 a day to get enough Vitamin D), as well as dark green leafy vegetables you will never be able to get anywhere near what you need from your diet and the form occurring in plants is not really useful.

During the twentieth century Vitamin D deficiency was mainly associated with rickets, a disease where bones soften and weaken. At that time it was recognized that this Vitamin played a big part (along with calcium and phosphate) in maintaining good healthy bones. But as we have become more aware of the many body processes that involve this amazing vitamin we are also becoming more aware of the far reaching impacts of its deficiency.

There are so many health problems in which Vitamin D deficiency is now known to play a part including SLE (Lupus), heart disease and high blood pressure, diabetes, PMS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, teeth problems, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, autism, mental health, migraines, MS, skin problems like psoriasis, infections, colds and flu, Hypothyroidism and diseases which have fat malabsorption such as Coeliac Disease. Even chronic pain – bone pain, muscle pain, back pain – can be due to a Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency is also quite common in children and has been shown to be linked to an increased likelihood of developing allergies. Late teething, irritability and poor growth are all a sign of a deficiency and even seizures and asthma seem to be linked.

It is now becoming more common to suspect vitamin D to be ‘the’, or at least one of the most crucial factors in the prevention of a large number of diseases. There has also been research conducted into Vitamin D and cancer prevention   Interestingly, and not surprisingly, research so far has shown that the doses required to prevent serious diseases are much, much higher than RDA’s (recommended daily amounts) and it is worth remembering that an RDA is set at the level needed to keep you alive, not the level required for good or optimum health.

Vitamin D allows your body to absorb calcium through the small intestine and plays a crucial part in the prevention of osteopeania and osteporosis, however, many people have taken calcium supplements for a long time without the necessary Vitamin D to actually absorb the calcium properly. Vitamin D turns out to be a major factor in keeping this disease at bay.

After getting the results of their blood tests many Australians find they require Vitamin D supplemets. Supplement quality varies! You can get them in the form of a capsule, tablet, liquid or as a drop that you place on your hand and lick off. Another great source is cod liver oil. In the past it tasted vile but these days it comes in fruit flavours to hide the fishy taste. Cod liver oil also provides you with vitamin A and EFA’s as a great bonus. But again, quality varies.

It is always really important to take a good quality supplement, whatever type of supplement it is. Basically, with supplements you get what you pay for. Poor quality products are often just a waste of money, especially if your body is excreting them because they are not in a form that you can absorb properly. And just because the product is advertised as being a ‘best-seller’ or ‘more popular’ does not mean it is even remotely any good!

Many people come to me after having been tested for Vitamin D levels and I keep seeing that the amount of Vitamin D supplement that most have been prescribed is inadequate to address their own personal Vitamin D deficiency and raise the levels in their body sufficiently. As is usual with the prescribing of supplements, a ‘one dose fits all’ use of Vitamin D

Get out and soak up (some of) those rays

is not appropriate or likely to get the best outcome possible. It needs to be tailored to the individual. Many doctors have not had the training in nutrition that is gained in Complementary Medicine (CAM) Courses, and which provides knowledge of the intricacies of vitamin/mineral interaction that enable the tailoring of supplement prescribing to an individuals needs.

So even though the days are lengthening and we can get out and soak up those rays, the reality is that your Vitamin D levels may still be below par. If you find you are craving carbohydrates more, your spirits are low or you are showing any of the signs linked with a deficiency, head off to the GP and have a talk about having your levels tested. Then if they are lower than optimal get some expert advice from your CAM practitioner about the dosage you personally require as well as which high quality supplement will improve your Vitamin D status. If you are hunkering down to face winter in the Northern latitudes it is even more important to be on top of your Vitamin D levels as they normally drop over the winter months.

Disclaimer.

All information and opinions presented here are for information only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before trying any of the treatment suggested on this site. 

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