Do you ever feel like you just need the sun to come out? There are many reasons we love the sun, sunlight enhances our serotonin levels and makes us happier, focused and calm and content, but one of the often-overlooked reasons we crave sunlight is because it provides us with a much-needed nutrient called Vitamin D. But sunlight exposure is a double edge sword. We are bombarded with warnings against sun exposure due to skin cancer risk. So we stay indoors, we cover up when we go out and we slather high SPF sunscreens and stay under umbrellas.
All this avoidance may be costing us our health and our lives. Craving the sun is a survival-based mechanism in our body because of our dire need of Vitamin D. We crave it and we need it nutritionally, emotionally, and physically.
The Epidemic of D-ficency: Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a global epidemic and a silent killer. Some experts refer to it as a pandemic because of the severity of the problem. Over one billion people in the world are deficient. Vitamin D regulates over 200 different gene functions. Being deficient in Vitamin D can cause an overwhelming amount of health issues and problems.
- A deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, periodontal disease, osteoporosis, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and affect the brain with neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- It is currently reported that Vitamin D deficiency is a factor in 17 different kinds of cancers especially breast, colon and prostate cancers.
- A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (June 2008) found that low blood levels of vitamin D doubled the risk of death from any cause and from cardiovascular causes in women and men (average age 62)
How Does the Sun Give us Vitamin D?
To clear up some confusion, Vitamin D is not actually a ‘vitamin’; it is a pro-hormone, a steroid that has more of a hormone influence in our bodies. Vitamins are nutrients that are not created by the body, we need to eat different foods to get the vitamins our bodies need to function. Vitamin D is different. It is created and synthesized by our body when our skin is exposed to the sun. We get about 10% of our Vitamin D from our diet in fortified dairy foods, egg yolks, beef liver and fatty fish (and most people have a hard time getting even that much). Almost 90 % of our Vitamin D intake is from sunlight and from supplementation. Vitamin D is fat-soluble and there are two main forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D3 is only found in animal-sourced foods and out body makes it when we are exposed to sunlight. D2 comes primarily from plant sources and fortified foods. When it comes to both forms, our bodies absorb and utilize Vitamin D3 much better than when we take in Vitamin D2.
Sunlight: When our skin is exposed to sunlight, a chemical reaction occurs that produces a substance called cholecalciferol (D3). The liver then gets involved and converts it to calcidiol and then the kidneys work to convert it to calcitrol which is the active hormone in the body. Calcitrol is what the doctors look for when they measure your Vitamin D levels in your bloodwork. Your Vitamin D status really depends on the production of vitamin D in the skin from sun exposure and whether or not you supplement with Vitamin D as well as the foods you choose to eat.
Why is Vitamin D important? Nearly EVERY cell in your entire body has a receptor (which is like a door into the cell) for Vitamin D. With over 37.2 trillion cells in our bodies you can imagine how significant a role Vitamin D plays in almost every function of the human body. Because of the immense need that your cells have for Vitamin D, it’s easy to understand how not having enough of it can cause so much to go awry and lead to disease states of enormous magnitude in the body.
- Research shows that Vitamin D3 plays a critical role in controlling the immune system and in doing so reduces the risk of many cancers and different autoimmune diseases.
- It is also responsible for increasing neuromuscular function, reducing pain, improving mood, as well as protecting your brain against toxic chemicals.
The Epidemic of Deficiency
Why is there such an alarming deficiency world-wide? Many factors play a role. One of the top reasons is that many of us slather on sunscreen with the intention of protecting ourselves from skin cancer. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 can reduce your body’s ability to create and synthesize Vitamin D by 95%. Anything that covers the skin blocks the penetration of the sun’s rays. The skin needs direct bare exposure to be able to synthesize vitamin D. People with darker skin colors also run a high risk of deficiency because of the melanin in their skin. People spend less time outdoors than we once did and are tucked away behind our computer screens in homes and offices with UV protection in the windows. The further you live from the equator, the less UVB rays you can get from the sun so those in Northern countries have a difficult time getting enough sun. High pollution in our cities block the sun’s rays as well. Infants are even at risk if they are solely breast fed. Older people are at risk because aging skin is less proficient in absorbing the suns rays and synthesizing Vitamin D. People who are home-bound or cover their bodies and heads for religious reasons are at risk. Occupations can interfere with one’s ability to get out into the sun as do the windows in our homes, offices and cars(which most are now manufactured with UV blocks).
How to get more Vitamin D:
1. Sun Exposure: The sun is foremost your best way of getting sufficient Vitamin D, but there are so many variables that coming up with any set formula is difficult. Most experts tend to agree that the midday sun is best and getting anywhere from 15 -30 minutes without sunscreen is sufficient. Noonday sun is when the UVB rays are at their peak. Early morning and late afternoon sunshine, due to the slant of the earth, tend to contain less UVB rays. The amount of clothing you wear also influences the amount of sunlight you synthesize; the less clothes you have on, the better exposure. And again, if you have dark skin or are over 65 years old, you will have a compromised ability to absorb and synthesize Vitamin D from sunlight exposure. Unfortunately, we don’t store up the Vitamin D we get from the sun. It needs to be reinforced daily. That’s why it’s important to try to get outside even in the cold weather.
2. Food: It would be easy if we could just eat foods that contain enough vitamin D to meet our needs, but this also proves to be difficult. There are limited foods that provide Vitamin D and it is not always easily absorbed.
Food Sources of Vitamin D3 (Best form to utilize)
- Salmon, Herring, Sardines, Canned Tuna, Oysters and Shrimp as well as Cod Liver Oil
- Egg yolks
Sources of Vitamin D2 (Not as effective as sources with D3)
- Mushrooms (grown in UV light)
- Fortified foods- most milks, soymilk, nut milks, dairy products, orange juice and cereals are now
- fortified with Vitamin D2
3. Supplements: Since getting enough sunshine year-round while protecting our skin from cancer produces a quandary for most of us; supplementing is probably your best insurance against being deficient. Nearly everyone from infants to adults and seniors needs to supplement with Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is inexpensive and easy to find. It is important that you check with your doctor or healthcare provider before supplementing and find out the best amount for you to take based on your blood levels and your individual health concerns and medications.
While the beautiful months of summer are upon us, remember to get out in the sun during your lunch breaks sans the sunscreen. Let your kids run for a few minutes in the sun before your armor-coat them with sunscreen sprays. Eat fatty fish 2 -3 times per week as well. It will not only improve your Vitamin D levels, it will improve your immune system, your mood, focus and outlook on life as well as protect you from osteoporosis, cancers, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune problems, gum disease and degenerative brain disorders and a host of degenerative disease conditions. Remember- Every cell in your body needs Vitamin D3 every single day to help you stay healthy and strong.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach