Are you getting enough, and does it matter?
Nothing lifts your mood better than sitting in beautiful sunshine. Sadly sun exposure has become the cancer-causing nasty we are cautioned against. But at what cost? We rely on the sun of our very survival, and humans have evolved a dependant relationship with the sun for our health and wellbeing. When UVA rays land on our skin, they react with a cholesterol compound to make Vitamin D3, for use in many body processes. The potential harm from sunshine is far outweighed by the benefits.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is best known for its regulation of calcium and phosphorus deposition in our bones. It has many other functions, however. Vitamin D helps regulate mood, is involved in cardiovascular and brain health, defends against infectious diseases including colds and flu, autoimmune diseases and cancer. You really are at risk without good levels of it!
What about skin cancer?
We know that excess sun exposure increases your chance of getting sunburn, which is a strong risk factor for skin cancer. This is a big issue in New Zealand. However, research has shown that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of cancer, including skin cancer. Therefore strike a sensible balance – sun exposure without the burn! A rule of thumb is letting the rays of the sun warm up your arms, legs and torso daily for half of the amount of time it would take for you to go pink.
Can I get Vitamin D from food?
Food sources of vitamin D are oily fish, eggs and dairy products. They are generally very low in vitamin D. The highest is found in cod liver oil. We are designed by nature to get Vitamin D from sunshine and our tissues then store excess for future use.
How do I know if I’m deficient?
There are many factors, but in general consider your skin type and how much time you spend outdoors and uncovered, upon which you can make some assumptions. The only way to really know is to get a blood test done, it costs around $50 – most people will not be funded for this. Studies show that 30% of NZ adults have levels on or below the recommended ‘adequate’ range. If you have darker skin, work indoors, always cover up your arms and legs with clothing, use sunblock, avoid the midday sun – you are at risk of low levels. And to make things worse, during the long months of winter your stores of Vitamin D are being drawn on and may not be enough to maintain healthy levels until summer returns.
How do I make Vitamin D safely?
Strike a sensible balance – do not burn! On as many days as possible, expose as much skin as you can to direct sunlight to receive beneficial UVA rays, which are strongest in the middle of the day. (Avoid exposure through glass – it blocks UVA but allows harmful UVB rays through). Large areas like arms, legs, back and tummy are ideal. You won’t make much Vitamin D on your face, so you might like to protect it with a hat or scarf. The time you expose your skin is very individual – this depends on your skin type and colour. For some fair-skinned people 5-10 minutes is their threshold, for a darker-skinned person 30 minutes might be their limit. Stay in the sun for about half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink, after this time cover up.
What about supplements?
Most multivitamins are low dosing – you’d need to take 10/day to get a good amount of Vitamin D. If you consider yourself to be low in Vitamin D, a good quality practitioner-only supplement containing at least 1000IU of Vitamin D3 can be taken daily. Sometimes up to 4000IU daily is required. If you have a significant health issue, it is wise to get a blood test, and see your naturopath who can prescribe the correct supplementation dose for your individual circumstances. Repeat 6 monthly testing is advisable to monitor the effect of supplementation.
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