It’s summer! Well, it’s a British summer and weather pending, now is the time to replenish our stores of Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. In our skin-conscious and time-poor society Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common. With our busy lives and inclement weather, we spend too much time indoors and when the sun finally appears, we cover ourselves in high factor sunscreen. It’s time to find that balance as a little sunshine will go a long way.
So what is Vitamin D?
Let’s start with the science. Despite the name, Vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone that is obtained primarily from sun exposure. Steroid hormones are essential in controlling a number of functions including our immune system and gene development. Vitamin D is vital in enhancing muscle strength and building our bones, whilst preventing cancer, reducing inflammation and boosting our mood. Maintaining optimum levels of Vitamin D is essential to our health.
So where do we find it?
There aren’t many foods with high enough levels of vitamin D to support our health needs. Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon are adequate sources, although you would need at least five portions a day to obtain satisfactory levels! Dried shitake mushrooms and egg yolks also contain moderate levels. The best source? The sun.
Follow your shadow
Numerous studies have shown that modest exposure to the sun may actually be good for us. Our skin produces Vitamin D in response to sunlight and the most effective time to absorb this is when the sun is at its highest. There is a saying, ‘if your shadow is shorter than you, then you are making vitamin D’.
If you go outside early in the morning, late afternoon, or at the end of the summer once the clocks go back, you’ll notice that your shadow is longer than you. As lovely as the temperature may be, the sun is not strong enough to trigger Vitamin D production in your skin. Where possible, step outside in the midday sun for just 10-20 minutes daily with no sunscreen, as this will block its absorption. Gauge the time depending on your skin type and how much sun exposure you’ve already had this year as you don’t want to burn, then either apply sun protection or better still, go into the shade. If you build up enough Vitamin D levels during the summer months, your body will cleverly store it in your liver to last you through the winter. Spot the signs of Vitamin D deficiency If you spend most of your time indoors you are more than likely to be Vitamin D deficient. Often people are unaware, so here are some of the signs to look out for. A mild deficiency may not show any symptoms at all.
- You sweat easily on your head – this is one of the early signs.
- You’ve got the blues and feel generally low.
- Bone pain and muscle weakness particularly during the winter.
- Aged 50+. As you get older your skin is less efficient in producing Vitamin D and your kidneys aren’t as effective in utilising it. Older people also tend to spend more time inside.
- You have darker skin – skin pigment is a natural sunscreen.
Kath’s tips on getting your sunshine vitamin
- The most effective way to top up your Vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure. Where possible, step outside in the midday sun for just 10-20 minutes daily with no sunscreen. Gradually build up your time and don’t go over 30 minutes (set an alarm on your phone so that you don’t overdo it, especially at the beginning).
- If this isn’t possible, try and get out and about during the summer months between the hours of 11am and 3pm, exposing as much of your body as possible. Remember to check your shadow which needs to be shorter than you.
- Take a Vitamin D supplement. Your liver can store Vitamin D for about three months, so start taking it from the middle of November. (Make sure you take a Vitamin D3 supplement and not Vitamin D2. Vitamin D3 is also known as Cholecalciferol).
- Eat plenty of oily fish, eggs and shitake mushrooms which will give you moderate levels of Vitamin D.
Step outside and enjoy the sun while it lasts!