What do scientists say?
Scientists have recently revealed something you may already have suspected — that lack of sunshine is bad for your health…
The sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is the element that our body produces when the sun shines on our skin, but we need that vitamin all year round, not just in the summer-time.
During the British winter, all we can hope for is the occasional glimpse of a watery sun breaking through the cloud, and this isn’t enough to allow our body to produce that essential D vitamin. In other words, between October and April most people, including children, are deficient in the component which enables our body to metabolise calcium as well as giving us protection from many other health issues.
Problems caused by the deficiency of vitamin D
Studies show that people not getting enough vitamin D in their diet are much more susceptible to depression than those with higher levels. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry involving more than 31,000 participants, showed that the hippocampus and other areas of the brain involved in regulating mood contain vitamin D receptors. Low levels of vitamin D may affect the function of these areas of the brain.
The Cochrane UK Library has published a review showing results from randomised trials concluding that taking an oral vitamin D supplement can reduce severe asthma attacks.
They stress that the supplement must be taken in addition to standard asthma medication but the extensive trials have shown a significant reduction in the symptoms of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath associated with asthma.
Cochrane’s researchers examined the results of seven trials involving 435 children, also two studies involving 658 adults. Participants in these studies were from a wide geographic area including the UK, Canada, India, Japan, Poland and the US. The majority had mild to moderate asthma but a minority had severe symptoms.
Professor Adrian Martineau from the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research at Queen Mary University of London said, “We found that taking a vitamin D supplement in addition to standard asthma treatment significantly reduced the risk of severe asthma attacks, without causing side effects.”
3. Surviving Cancer
According to a study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Cancer patients with higher levels of vitamin D when they are diagnosed, tend to live longer and remain in remission longer than those with low levels. The strongest link between vitamin D and survival rates applied particularly to those with lymphoma, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
4. Dementia and Alzheimers Disease
Reports published in the journal Neurology state that adults who are moderately deficient in vitamin D have a 53% increased risk of developing dementia. The report also claims that those who are severely deficient have a significantly increased risk of the disease compared to those with healthy levels.
It is unfortunate too that as we age our skin becomes less efficient in converting vitamin D from sunlight, so supplementation is a good precaution.
5. Bone Health
Vitamin D helps our body to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. When there is a deficiency it can result in bone deformities and pain. Children could develop rickets, and adults a condition known as osteomalacia.
Get enough vitamin d from foods
So what can be done to keep our vitamin D stores topped up? In the absence of sunshine, there are certain foods which will do the trick if eaten regularly:
- Oily fish such as salmon, sardine, mackerel and herring are excellent choices
- Egg yolk
- Red meat
- Beef or calf liver
- Shiitake mushrooms
Fortified food products are also a great help in ensuring you and your family get extra vitamin D on a daily basis. Manufacturers of butter-type spreads, breakfast cereals, orange juice, yoghurt, almond milk and tofu often add vitamin D to their products, so check out the nutritional labels.
How much vitamin D do we need?
To be getting enough vitamin d each day, the NHS recommends that adults and children over five years old take 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day during the winter months. What do ten micrograms look like? Micrograms are used to measure extremely tiny amounts of vitamins and many vitamins are labelled in ounces and milligrams. A microgram is 1/1000 of a milligram, and there are 28 milligrams in one ounce! Remember that vitamins are highly powerful chemicals and you usually only need very small amounts
According to the health agencies, between late March to the end of September, most people should get enough vitamin D from being outdoors in natural sunlight, so make the most of the longer days.
Sadly, not everyone is able to get out of doors to benefit from soaking up enough sunlight to allow their body to convert it to vitamin D. It’s important for anyone who is housebound to get their vitamin D from diet and supplement.
Can You Overdose on Vitamin D?
If you take too many vitamin D supplements for a long period of time, then it is possible that the excess might cause more calcium to be absorbed than the body can get rid of. If this happens then too much calcium can get into the bloodstream and may lead to heart and kidney damage.
The NHS state:
- 10 micrograms per day will be enough for most people. Do not take more than 100 mcg per day as it could be harmful. This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, the elderly and children aged 11-17 years.
- Children aged 1-10 years should not have more than 50mcg a day.
- Infants under 12 months should not have more than 25mcg a day.
Left to its own devices, your body will not make too much vitamin D simply from sun exposure.
Protecting Yourself from Melanoma
Being out in sunlight for a decent portion of each day throughout the spring and summer does not mean you need to sunbathe or expose your skin to the fierce and harmful rays, particularly of the mid-day sun. Always remember to cover up or protect your skin if you are out in strong sunshine, or for long periods, to reduce the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.
Unfortunately, total sunblock will prevent your body from converting the rays of the sun into vitamin D. It will however, give you much more protection from the risk of melanoma. So there is a fine line to be achieved between getting enough natural daylight and protecting yourself from the harmful rays of the sun.
Have Your Say
Do let us know your thoughts on any of these points, we greatly value your input.