We all love a sunny day. That moment when you wake up, peel back the curtains and rejoice - nothing but blue skies! Surely there’s no greater feeling in the world than that warm glow beating down on your face.
And there’s science behind it too. In a study conducted by the University of Michigan, researchers discovered that just 30 minutes spent out in the sun each day will considerably improve your mood.
Sounds good. We love sunshine and sunshine loves us. But of course, it could never be that easy. After all, aren’t we all constantly being told that we need to stay out of the sun or be packing on the Factor 30? And with good reason too. Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent diseases worldwide, with around 13,500 new cases reported in the UK alone each year.
Unfortunately for us, that’s not the end of it either. We don’t just need sunshine to keep our moods up, we also need it for something even more essential - Vitamin D.
Often referred to as the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that plays an integral role in several key processes within the human body. Best known for the role it plays in facilitating the absorption of Calcium and Phosphorous into your bones and teeth to make them strong and healthy, it also contributes to other aspects of your physiology too.
Unlike almost all of the other 23 essential micronutrients (nutrients we get from our diet as our bodies can’t synthesise them organically), Vitamin D is available most abundantly from the Ultraviolet B rays in sunshine. As you are exposed to sunlight, your body stores Vitamin D in your lipids (fats of the cell) so that it can be used to benefit your ongoing health.
Which inevitably leaves us all wondering: ‘How much sunshine is enough and how much is too much?’ Sure, we can (and definitely should!) use sunscreen but when you realise that anything above Factor 15 will likely absorb around 99% of the Vitamin D from the sunlight, we’re no closer to solving our dilemma.
For anyone who thinks they’ve got the beating of science by getting their Vitamin D through a glass window or conservatory roof, think again, only the harmful UVA rays are getting through, not the UVB rays you so desperately need.
In an attempt to tackle this very quandary, scientists have now started recommending that we all consider Vitamin D supplementation as a healthier alternative to long periods spent in (or out of) the sun.
In the world of essential micronutrients the devil is quite often in the detail, which is why it is important to understand just how Vitamin D breaks down. There are two major forms of Vitamin D that play a role in how we absorb its nutritive goodness.
Vitamin D2 (also known as ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is made naturally by plants so we can get it from certain food sources, but only in very small amounts. While Vitamin D3 is the more abundantly available (and arguably more effective) version made naturally by our bodies when our skin is exposed to UVB rays.
The good news is that we can convert both types of Vitamin D into Calcitriol which is the hormonal form of Vitamin D that our bodies want to put to use. Confusing as it all may sound, the salient information to take away from it all is that Vitamins D2 and D3 are not actually biologically active. They need to be modified in the body to have any beneficial effect on us.
Fortunately for us, both forms of the Vitamin are commercially synthesised and available, and they both offer an effective means of maintaining proper blood levels of vitamin D in the body.
You would think that any vitamin that is readily available from just stepping outside into the sunshine would be a lot easier to come by than one that you had get from say… eating a papaya fruit, but research is beginning to suggest otherwise.
With recommended amounts of Vitamin D for adults standing at around 400-600 international units (iu) per day, there are increasingly alarming signs that we aren’t all getting enough.
According to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, approximately one billion people worldwide are currently Vitamin D deficient and just over 1 in 5 people in the UK!
When the body is low on this essential nutrient, the health problems can be startling. High blood pressure and osteoporosis are just two of the most common issues but there are others.
With less Vitamin D comes softer bones and with that we open ourselves up to the risk of diseases such as rickets or osteomalacia. It is clear that Vitamin D offers numerous health benefits, and while the elderly or obese are at most risk of Vitamin D deficiency, it’s worth bearing in mind that it isn’t all doom and gloom.
There is help out there and it is easy to come by. A simple, regular dose of a Vitamin D supplement each day can keep your bones strong and healthy, no matter the weather. Recent studies also suggest that Vitamin D supplements could spare more than three million people from colds or flu in the UK each year, due to it's role in boosting the immune system.
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