Vitamin D has been known for its effect on bone health for decades. In the recent years, there has been extensive coverage in the medical industry as well as in the media about the benefits of this vitamin.
So why is this vitamin so essential to our health?
Vitamin D is not a vitamin per say, but is actually a hormone that the body can synthesize when sun exposure is adequate. Vitamin D is involved with the proper functioning of at least 2600 genes.
Low levels increase the incidence of cancers especially colon, breast, prostate and lung. Studies also prove that low levels are associated with the following chronic diseases:
- heart disease, hypertension
- osteoporosis, rickets and osteoarthritis
- endocrine disorders like diabetes mellitus, thyroid problems, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome
- inflammatory spinal cord diseases, epilepsy and mood disorders like depression, migraine headaches
- musculoskeletal pain, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders
- weakened immune system with a tendency to get sick
According to the European Journal of Diet and Nutrition, optimal levels of Vitamin D decreased deaths from all causes by at least 29%.
When the centenarians were studied in the Blue Zones, it was noted that these disease free people who were 100 years and older all had very high levels of Vitamin D. It was noted that their skin was ‘leathery’ from all the sun exposure while doing gardening, herding the cattle or tending to household duties. They spent a good few hours in the sun each day.
So you probably think that you are not at risk of having a Vitamin D deficiency as we live in sunny South Africa. Think again. A large number of South Africans are Vitamin D deficient, with some statistics pointing to a figure as high as 80%. The reason for this is that we spend far too much time working indoors in offices and do not spend enough time outdoors, the way our cavemen ancestors did. Also, the scare of skin cancer have caused people to avoid the sun and apply sunscreen on their body without supplementing with essential Vitamin D.
Getting tested for Vitamin D:
Vitamin D testing can easily be done through a blood test at a laboratory. If you do not have an optimal level, then supplementing with this hormone is recommended. There are many over the counter supplements and Vitamin D3 is preferred over Vitamin D2.
It is important to note that Vitamin D3 is a fat soluble vitamin and that you can overdose by taking high amounts of it for an extended period. It is therefore advisable that you see your healthcare practitioner with regards to supplement dosage and monitoring of blood levels. Exposure to sunlight for extended periods does not seem to cause Vitamin D toxicity.
Getting Vitamin D from the sunlight, responsibly:
Mother Nature can NEVER be replicated. Sunlight has many benefits, other than just providing us with Vitamin D. Research is now showing that sunlight at midday is less harmful than at other times as the rays tend to penetrate the skin at a different angle.
10-15 minutes a day, at midday, would be the best way to top up your D levels naturally. Dark-skinned people are less efficient at making Vitamin D because of the melanin in the skin and need longer periods in the sun.
Thereafter, if you are going to remain outdoors, then a chemical free, natural sunblock is advised. 70% of sunblocks contain toxic chemicals that get absorbed into the bloodstream causing other illnesses so make sure that you do your homework before using any sunblock.
Covering up with light clothing also helps prevent sunburn.
Get tested for Vitamin D today to ensure that your levels are in the optimal range.