From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer
Just in case it has slipped your mind, the clocks move forward one hour this weekend; so we may lose some precious sleep, but we are set to gain so much more!
Everyone definitely feels more uplifted at the start of British Summer Time, and with good reason. Our days are gradually getting longer and the grey skies of winter are becoming a distant memory. And, fingers crossed, we should be seeing some more of the sun! Apart from the obvious benefits of longer, brighter days, the sun is essential for making the wonder vitamin D.
Vitamin D, otherwise known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ is predominantly made on the skin, in the presence of sunlight, and is frequently deficient in the UK population. It plays a very positive role in our health and therefore lack of sunlight can have a detrimental effect.
We know how vital Vitamin D is in protecting against bone-related diseases, particularly in later life. But as new research emerges, it has also been discovered that vitamin D plays a really important part in supporting the immune system, as well as potentially reducing the risks of metabolic syndrome and also SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Four reasons why Vitamin D is so important:
1. It helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth
Vitamin D’s key role is in the building and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, partly because it’s essential for regulating the minerals calcium and phosphorous in the body.
2. It helps to metabolise glucose, reducing the risks of metabolic syndrome (a pre-cursor to Type 2 Diabetes)
More recent research has found a protective link against the onset of metabolic syndrome: Vitamin D helps to metabolise glucose, which regulates insulin levels, and this is the key mechanism for keeping blood sugar levels controlled. However, metabolic syndrome can still be stopped in its tracks with the right diet and lifestyle changes, and, of course, sufficient vitamin D.
3. Vitamin D supports the immune system and fights infections
The discovery of Vitamin D Receptors (VDR’s) in immune cells, has established its role in helping to fight bacterial infections. Vitamin D has also been positively linked with higher concentrations of the good HDL cholesterol, which is protective against heart disease.
4. This wonder vitamin helps to stop us feeling SAD
It is common to feel ‘lower’ in mood during the winter months, and this can be partly attributed to the lack of sunshine and frequent, grey, darker days. Vitamin D has been found to influence serotonin levels in the brain – the ‘happy hormone’ – so a lack of Vitamin D can really affect your mood. And that’s why we all love a sunshine-filled holiday – more sunshine equals more Vitamin D which equals more happiness!
How to get Vitamin D into your body:
Although Vitamin D is made on the skin in a reaction to sunlight, it is also found in oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and margarines. However, these are not generally foods that people eat in high quantities. Therefore, it’s mostly down to the sun to get the body producing meaningful levels of Vitamin D.It is virtually impossible for the body to produce Vitamin D in those people living at sea level and in countries situated in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months – hence deficiency is very widespread.
Symptoms are often very subtle, and can be missed, but generally start with muscle weakness and bone pain. Long term deficiencies can make people prone to more serious illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes, as well as bone related illnesses.
Certainly supplementation is key, particularly during the winter months. However, busy lives mean that people are still spending long periods indoors, or behind a desk, therefore it’s advisable to supplement all-year round as well as getting out into the natural daylight as often as often as you can.
The Department of Health is currently recommending supplementation for ‘at risk’ groups: pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children under five years, people aged 65 and over, people with no exposure to the sun and those who have darker skin (because darker skin has more pigmentation, making it difficult for the sun to penetrate). However, many other sectors of the population will be at risk of deficiency, for obvious reasons.
Sun exposure versus sun damage:
Clearly, we all need to be mindful of the potentially damaging effects, on the skin, of having too much sun exposure. However, did you know that having just 15 minutes a day without sunscreen is all you need to produce sufficient Vitamin D? We tend to liberally ‘slap’ on the sunscreen before we go out into the sun, but by applying high strength sun cream the skin won’t actually be able to make Vitamin D.
Indeed, the children’s bone disease rickets, which had almost been completely eradicated, has started to become more prevalent since people have started using high strength sun creams, such as an SPF 50 on children. Just a short time without protection – 15 minutes – is all it takes to bring enormous benefits, particularly for your bones and immune system, but do make sure you cover up and apply that sunscreen after the 15 minutes are up!
So do enjoy the longer (and hopefully) sunnier days ahead and get your boost of Vitamin D everyday – outside in the sun, in your diet and via supplementation – you’ll certainly feel happier and healthier!