Dr. Kendra Becker
Summer is here with all its benefits and exquisite pleasures. Coats, cozy fires, and long cold nights are distant memories. It’s time to enjoy all that summer has to offer including long walks in your neighborhood or local park, as well as locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of the free, easily available, and most important sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D. So open the windows and let the sun shine in!.
Even though Connecticut summers are full of sunshine, scientists still continue to report an overwhelming Vitamin D deficiency among the nation’s population. Vitamin D is beneficial for many vital body processes and a deficiency of Vitamin D can certainly leave the body out of balance.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble pro-hormone that is most well known for regulation of calcium absorption…. But wait there’s more! It is also very important to metabolism at the cellular level, and it is an important aspect of insulin production, immunity, and inflammation reduction. Low levels of Vitamin D have been shown in patients with cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain conditions, and auto-immune diseases.
Most Americans get 90% or more of their Vitamin D from the sun. The rest comes from diet. Sadly, recent increases in skin cancer rates worldwide and increasing nutrient poor foods that are consumed regularly, have allowed for long forgotten diseases like rickets to make a comeback. Dietary sources of Vitamin D clearly play an important role in over all health.
There is a wide range of individuals managing chronic illnesses that are associated with low Vitamin D levels. The range includes those who are obese, or individuals with diseases of the colon or malabsorption problems (eg. Celiac or IBS); as well as individuals with MS, SLE, Crohn’s disease, RA, Psoriasis, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Seasonal Depression, cancers, and most commonly, bone diseases such as osteoporosis. Age related Vitamin D deficiency is often found in the elderly.
For most people 15-30 minutes of sun a day, in most areas of the country gives the body adequate Vitamin D. Even on cloudy and cold winter days, the sun provides the Vitamin D the body needs. Always use safe practices and limit sun exposure to just enough to benefit health. It is important to note, that sunscreens decrease Vitamin D synthesis by nearly 99%. As we age we lose the ability to utilize Vitamin D. Darker complexions require 5 to 10 times as much sun exposure than lighter complexions in order to produce the same amounts of Vitamin D.
Choosing to get Vitamin D from food in combination with minimal sun exposure is also an option. Vitamin D can be found in large amounts in foods that have been enriched with Vitamin D. Research shows that Vitamin D3 is the best form absorbed in the human body; so when looking for enriched foods, look for the Vitamin D3 on the label. Natural sources such as fatty deep sea fishes and orange juice are rich in Vitamin D. Another option is a tanning session at your local tanning salon.
When making decisions about Vitamin D sources keep in mind the following word of caution. Excessive levels of Vitamin D can cause serious consequences, such as kidney damage. Although there are no reports of excess Vitamin D from the sun, over exposure to the sun causes skin damage which can lead to other serious health problems including skin cancer. Be sure to see you healthcare provider and have your Vitamin D levels checked with a simple blood test before increasing your exposure and intake of Vitamin D.
Once we understand the importance of Vitamin D, each of us can more fully appreciate the health value of this vitamin. Adding more Vitamin D to the day’s activities will help us feel better and healthier which will feel as good as sunshine on a sunny day