Vitamin D is a star nutrient these days, and has been well-established in the role of good bone health and supporting the immune, brain and the nervous system. As well as reducing the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Interestingly, before the year 2000, very few doctors ever considered the possibility that we may be deficient in vitamin D. But as the ability to measure levels became more readily available, it became increasingly clear that vitamin D deficiency was absolutely rampant, with up to 84% of New Zealanders deficient in this essential vitamin.
Did you know:
The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing bare skin to sunlight (ultraviolet B rays). What few people realise is the body can only synthesise vitamin D between 10am and 3pm in SUMMER! When the sun’s rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere at too much of an angle, the atmosphere blocks the UVB part of the rays, so your skin can’t produce vitamin D.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Many decades ago, doctors believed that vitamin D was good only for healthy bones and teeth. Research has since proven otherwise, with a deficiency now being linked to numerous health problems including; heart disease, depression and cancer. One study at Creighton University found that vitamin D, when combined with calcium, reduced cancer by 77%.
One clue your lacking? You’ve starting feeling wimpy or blue. That’s because your muscle fibers contain vitamin D receptors, which play a key role in protein synthesis and growth. Without enough of the nutrient, both muscle strength and body function can suffer.
How much do you need?
This is as easy as rolling up your sleeve! If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels tested, I would highly recommend doing so. Most medical clinics in DHB areas are no longer funded for this, as it is considered a ‘preventative test’. Generally, the best way is to go into a local lab like Southern Labs, Lab Tests or Med Labs where you can get a test done for around $40.
Vitamin D levels are measured by 2 different units, ng/ml in the United States and nmol/l in most other places. Depending what you read, recommended levels are beween; 40-60 ng/ml OR 50-100 nmol/L. Anything less is considered a deficiency.
Note; The is the minimum required levels, not the optimum levels, further research suggests we may need even more. Older adults especially need more as aged skin becomes less efficient at synthesising vitamin D.
How do you increase your vitamin D levels?
Get some summer sun! The best time to get outside and soak up the vitamin D is between 10am and 3pm (in summer). However, your body can’t make vitamin D if you’re wearing sunscreen, so 20 minutes of sun exposure should be the maximum you aim for (depending on your skin type, less if you’re fairer), as it’s important not to burn your skin. Most people with fair skin will max out their vitamin D production in just 10-20 minutes. Some need less, others more. The darker your skin, the longer exposure you will need to optimize your vitamin D production. A good rule of thumb; if your shadow is longer than you are tall, you’re not making much vitamin D. The closer to midday the better the angle and the more vitamin D is produced.
Vitamin D can also be obtained from food and supplements, however, it is my firm belief that we were not designed to swallow our daily dose of vitamin D, we were designed to absorb it from the sun. Food and supplements should be used to complement vitamin D from the sun, especially in the winter months. There are very few foods that actually have therapeutic levels of vitamin D naturally, some of those foods include; oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout), liver, eggs, mushrooms and raw dairy (milk, cheese). Supplements can help fill the gaps, so if you are taking a supplement, you will want to make sure you are getting D3, as this is the most biologically active form of vitamin D.
Final Thoughts & Tips
It is a fine line between sufficient vitamin D absorption vs skin damage and melanoma. There is a danger that a couple ‘sun bunnies’ will read this article and think it is ok to spend 3 hours in the sun getting burnt. It’s not.
To all my readers, the blog will be taking a break in January and will be back the first Monday of February. Have a good holiday and enjoy the summer sun!