The sunshine vitamin

For one blessed moment as I was on my way to work today, the sun broke through the clouds.  This brightened up my mood considerably (all puns intended) and got me thinking about garden planting, and playing with the kids outside and also about vitamin D.

Vitamin D is often referred to as the Sunshine Vitamin, because our skin can make it when exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun.  Back when people used to spend time outside without full sun block coverage, deficiencies were fairly uncommon.  But in recent generations, that has changed.

The health field used to think of vitamin D as kind of a little helper for calcium, and manufacturers would add a couple hundred units into their Cal/Mag tablets to aid absorption.  The dairy industry began fortifying milk with D.  Tropicana adds it to their orange juice.  Even my rice milk claims to contain 45% of your recommended daily amount in a half cup serving.  With all of these “functional foods” out there, you would think that we would all be getting enough, right?

The current RDI for vitamin D lies somewhere between 200 and 600IU (international units), dependant on age group. This is enough that calcium is absorbed.  New studies have come to light over the past few years however that suggest that these amounts are nowhere near enough for good health.

Research has linked vitamin D deficiency with certain forms of cancer, fatigue, autoimmune disorders and inflammatory bowel conditions.  According to one scientific journal, researchers are questioning the need to bump up the recommended amounts to 1000IU daily for adults, and move the “safe high limit” to 2000IU.  Lactating mothers meanwhile, need about 6000IU daily if they are going to pass on enough of the vitamin to the nursing infant.

There are some groups of people that will never get this amount of vitamin D from the sun.  People with darker skin tones have a harder time converting sunlight to this vitamin, since the pigment in their skin naturally screens out much of the ultraviolet rays.  This is good news when you are reading the statistics on melanoma, but bad news when reading about vitamins.  I guess it’s a trade off.  Obesity is also a factor, though none of the studies I have read seem to be able to explain why.  All we know at this time is that the higher the BMI, the lower the vitamin D absorption.

Supplements are available on the market, usually in doses of 400 or 1000IU.  Personally however, I prefer to get mine the old fashioned way – by actually going out in the sun.  It’s a radical idea, but more fun then taking extra pills.  When you go outside, avoid hats and dark glasses as these cut down on the amount of sunlight that the body can use.  I know, I know, this goes against everything you’ve ever read about skin cancer.  If you are going to be spending long periods of time outside, then please do cover up.  Short periods of time will be perfectly safe.

I wish that I had space here to detail all of the new studies that are being done on this vitamin.  Taking a few minutes to do some research is defiantly worth the effort.  Find a chair in a window while you read, and let your skin go to work creating better health.

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