Shedding light on the sunshine vitamin
We know that when the sun comes out we feel better. Sun on face equals happiness. Is it such a simple equation?
It was recently stated (in The Journal of Pharmacology) that 50% of the population worldwide are affected by Vitamin D insufficiency. This is a staggering figure and leads one to wonder why. It is thought that deficiency is primarily due to a reduced level of outdoor activities and increased pollution; both factors which limit the exposure to the sunlight.
Can we consider food sources as a way to avoid falling into this 50% category? Sadly few foods contain Vitamin D; foods naturally high include fish oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Interestingly, mushrooms when exposed to sunlight will naturally generate this nutrient. Store-bought mushrooms are able to generate over 20 mcg per serving after being placed in sunlight for a couple of hours in the midday sun.
Clearly, considering this food list, vegans need to be most vigilant and certainly may consider allowing their mushrooms to sunbathe for a while.
So why is this high level of Vitamin D deficiency of such concern? Many are aware of the link between Vitamin D and bone health. But can a lack of this sunshine vitamin cause us other issues.
Many of us residing in this sunshine starved nation would benefit from understanding the links between a Vitamin D deficiency and their persisting health issues. Conditions which have been linked to low levels of Vitamin D range from diabetes to eczema, from osteoporosis to food allergies or intolerances.
If we know the physical links then we can keep an eye on potential symptoms and be proactive about our health.
As well as its well-known part to play in the absorption of calcium for strong bones, Vitamin D has a wide range of biological actions such as its involvement in insulin secretion. Researchers have linked low vitamin D levels to insulin resistance and diabetes. Additionally the steep rise in allergies has been linked to the correlating deficiency in the sunshine vitamin due to its role within the immune system. The link with depression and low mood is another area of interest as Vitamin D receptors have been found in the brain. This link has led to a growing amount of research in this area.
For most people, the best way to ensure you have enough vitamin D is a combination of sensible time spent under the sun (the NHS recommends 10-15 minutes per day between 11am and 3pm) and adequate intake of foods containing the vitamin. However within the pressures of a modern world this is not always practical. Vitamin D status can be assessed with a simple blood test and a supplement recommended if necessary. Given that there are adverse effects to an excess of Vitamin D, it’s unwise to self-diagnose and cases of potential deficiency should seek advice from a professional.