A lot of people know Vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin, but in fact there is a lot more it than just that.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, stored in the body’s fatty tissue. Its function is to enable the body to absorb calcium and phosphates, two minerals that are essential for the formation of bone tissue. In addition, it also helps to regulate blood pressure and is attributed to regulating the immune system and lowering the risk of certain cancers.
Lack of Vitamin D can lead to serious problems. In infants and children it can prevent mineralisation of bone, causing soft bones which then become deformed and bowed. In adults this can contribute to osteoporosis and osteomalcia (soft bones) which manifest into persistent, everyday problems such as depression and fatigue, chronic backache, and obesity.
How to get Vitamin D in your body? Conveniently, it is synthesized in your skin by exposure to ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation form the sun. Vitamin D is found naturally in very small quantities in very few foods, notably oysters and fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Unfortunately, unless you eat buckets of oysters each day (and who has the time?), it’s not easy to absorb vitamin D in sufficient quantities from our food alone.It’s thought that a light-skinned person only needs to expose their arms, legs, and face to direct sunlight for 5-10 minutes during the middle of the day 3 times a week for 9 months of the year to achieve their annual dose of Vitamin D. Many of us will accomplish this by merely walking to the store or doing yardwork. However, there are also many obstacles to consider.
Glass, clothing, and sunblock all block UVB rays. So sitting inside a car or in the sunny spot in the living room will not help your Vitamin D levels, nor will covering all or most of your body when you go outside. Even a lightweight sunblock of SPF 8 will prevent 95% of the UVB rays from stimulating Vitamin D production.
However, those with darker skin tend to suffer frequently with Vitamin D deficiency. Melanin, which gives dark skin its colour, also blocks UVB rays from penetrating. It’s believed that dark skin needs 20-30 times the exposure as lighter skin to produce the same amount of Vitamin D. Though controversial, it has been suggested that the high rate of prostrate cancers among black men may be due to common Vitamin D deficiency.
To combat this, some foods are now commonly supplemented or fortified with Vitamin D including dairy products, soy milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals.
Despite the need for Vitamin D, please don’t see this as an excuse to never wear sunblock or a hat in the sun. Skin cancer is still dangerous, particularly in certain parts of the world or if you have very fair skin and common sense is always the best sense.
To get your quota of sunshine, think about how you can get the most out the daylight hours. Perhaps you could try getting off the train a stop early and jogging in, or taking a run around the park on your lunch break? Get creative and think about how you could start to get more of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ that is vitamin D. It could be the start of a new you.