By Ruth Lovelace
BA (Hons) BSc (Hons) DipBCNH MBANT
Registered Nutritional Therapist
T: 07967 815 039
Every time the sun comes out it reminds us that Summer is hopefully nearly here! Sunlight is a natural and free way to get vitamin D, but how easy is this to achieve and why should we care?
What is vitamin D?
Technically vitamin D is a hormone and not a vitamin at all! It’s your body’s only source of the most potent steroid hormone in the body. Did you know that most vitamins can’t be produced by your body (we can only get them from dietary sources)? Vitamin D is special though, as your body can actually make it. However, in order for it to do this we need to be exposed to sunlight or take supplements (more on that later…)
What does vitamin D do?
A lot! It’s involved in hundreds of processes in the body which are vital for preventing disease and maintaining health. It’s needed for the uptake of calcium which is crucial for strong and healthy bones – low levels of vitamin D can lead to rickets (soft bones) in children, osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults and osteoporosis (thin and weak bones) in later life.
Vitamin D is also needed for a healthy immune system – it reduces levels of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines and increases amounts of antimicrobial proteins, which destroy invading germs and viruses. This can help your immune system fight infections better.
More recent research shows fascinating results – vitamin D directly affect genes across our whole body. Genes tell your body what to do and when to do it. This has lead to low levels of vitamin D being linked to conditions including: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Where do I get vitamin D from?
You can get some vitamin D from food – but it’s only found in small amounts in oily fish, eggs, liver and it is added to some processed foods (e.g. – margarine, breakfast cereals, etc.) – however only about 10% of your vitamin D comes from your diet. Sunlight exposure is the only reliable way to generate vitamin D in your own body – our skin absorbs the UV rays from sunlight and a sophisticated chemical process then takes place in our skin, liver and kidneys in order for the active form of vitamin D (called calcitriol) to be made and used by our body.
In order to make vitamin D you don’t need to tan or to burn your skin; you only need to be exposed to sunlight without suntan lotion for around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink – approx 15 – 20 minutes. The more skin you expose the more vitamin D your body will produce. In the UK the sun is only strong enough to make vitamin D between April and September. During the rest of the year vitamin D deficiency is more common and supplementation can increase levels. Some people are more prone to vitamin D deficiency (people with darker skin, older people, pregnant women and those who stay covered up in the sun or are indoors a lot). The best way to find out whether you have low levels of vitamin D is to get them checked by your GP and seek advice from a Registered Nutritional Therapist or one of the Advisors at Wild Oats about supplementation.
So – enjoy the sunshine and know that it doesn’t just make you feel good, but has a big role to play in your health!
Ruth Lovelace is a Registered Nutritional Therapist who lives and works in Bristol. She sees clients with a range of health concerns including skin conditions, digestive complaints, weight management, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, or simply people who want to improve their general health through nutrition.
More information can be found on her website: www.thewhole-meal.co.uk