Vitamin D Goodness – Happy and responsible sunbathing everyone!
Vitamin D Goodness
This wonderful vitamin is really just beginning to receive the recognition it deserves for its years of hard work. Research is now showing that there are vitamin D receptors to be found throughout many areas of our body. These are like switches which only vitamin D can turn on and off. Where ever a receptor is found, it indicates that vitamin D most likely has a role to play. Vitamin D’s biggest claim to fame to date is its important role in bone health and modelling, however evidence is rapidly emerging that vitamin D may also have important roles in prevention and management of diabetes, improved fertility outcomes, immune system modulation, cancer prevention, balance and reduced falls in the elderly, muscle health, brain health and proliferative conditions like psoriasis and scleroderma. Just wow!
One of my favourite things about this vitamin is, unlike all of the others which require us to eat delicious vitamin packed foods, this one comes from the sun. How good is that. There is a small dilemma here though. The rays we require in order to max out our vitamin D production are ultraviolet B rays (there a few different rays all bundled together from the sun as light and heat hurtle to us through space). These UVB rays are also unfortunately the same ones which are on trial for increasing the risk of some types of skin cancers. Now don’t panic, that’s what has lead to what is becoming epidemic like levels of vitamin D deficiency not only in Australia but also overseas. We have become so good at slip, slop, slapping and staying well out of the sun that many of us aren’t seeing enough of it any more. Everything in moderation is the key. Short periods of sunshine on our bare skin, 15 minutes per day during the warmer months and up to an hour during the cooler months, are considered the best way to meet our vitamin D requirements. Moderation means we can have our cake and eat it too and who doesn’t love a bit of sun on their bare skin. It just feels so good for you, and it turns out it is.
When it comes to bone health vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphorus absorption and excretion in order to maintain appropriate levels levels in our blood and bones. Vitamin D also regulates immune function with levels at birth possibly effecting dispositions for auto immune conditions or allergic responses like asthma, eczema and hay fever. There is a growing body of evidence also supporting the role of vitamin D in healthy pancreatic function. Vitamin D levels are thought to possibly be a determining factor in the development of diabetes type 1 and may play a beneficial role in insulin production in diabetes type 2. As an anti-proliferative it is thought that vitamin D may have some strong benefits in preventing the growth and spread of some cancers as well as regulating cell proliferation in conditions like scleroderma and psoriasis. With research under way around the world I’m sure this is just going to be the beginning. I think I might have a bit of bias here but without the sun we wouldn’t be here and so I suspect its effects will reach to just about every corner of our body.
As vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin our body is able to make hay while the sun is shining and store a little for later use. This is stored primarily in the fatty tissues of the body and released during times when sun exposure isn’t enough to meet daily vitamin D demands. It is quite surprising that so many people are vitamin D deficient these days. In Australia, well at least from Sydney up, we have pretty constant sunshine year round. Sure its cold in winter but with a little effort we can find a sunny corner and get some skin out. We are lucky enough to experience a fairly mild winter with plenty of hours of sunshine in comparison to many parts of the world. As a back up plan for those unable to make it out doors as regularly as would be good (as can happen with the elderly or unwell) there are also some foods which contain small amounts of vitamin D. One of the best sources is the much maligned cod liver oil. It also comes from fatty fish such as herring, salmon, tuna and sardines, beef and liver, butter eggs and fortified foods like milk. There is also a slightly different form of vitamin D found in some mushrooms. Happy and responsible sunbathing everyone!