Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Sun...Hurtful or Healthful?

Ah, the sun. Remember what the warmth of the sun feels like on your skin? Remember how it tingles, and energizes every pore? Where did it go?

It seems almost cruel to talk about sunshine this time of year. It's been a long time since we saw the sun. Here on the rainy west coast, a break in the clouds sends my wife into a frantic dash to soak up the very brief rays before the clouds consume them again. But shouldn't she be avoiding those harmful UV rays??

For many years we have been told to limit sun exposure, glob on copius amounts of chemical laden sunscreen, and to keep the tender skin of our children away from harmful cancer causing rays. Is this really what's best for us??? The sun is our major source of Vitamin D3, which 85% of the American public is seriously deficient in.

Many of us notice a decrease in energy, and a more lethargic or depressed mood during the long winter months. Our bodies respond to the shorter days and increased darkness during the winter by producing an increase of melatonin. Melatonin is the mood-regulating hormone that modulates the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythms, bringing us down gently at night for sleep. Mood swings, food cravings, and insomnia are influenced by Melatonin. Vitamin D levels are inversely related to those of melatonin. Sunlight shuts melatonin production off, while triggering the release of Vitamin D, which serves many vital functions in the body.

Vitamin D, is actually a hormone itself, the most powerful hormone in your body, rather than a vitamin. Vitamin D plays a vital role in a maintaining a healthy immune system, decreasing the risks of high blood pressure, maintaining blood calcium levels, and promoting healthy insulin secretion and glucose tolerance, and is a potent antibiotic, so it makes sense that Vitamin D positively influences diseases such as:

SO, the question is, HOW do we get our Vitamin D this time of year when we are spending most of our time indoors, or under cloudy skies? And how much Vitamin D is necessary?

The BEST source of vitamin D is through unfiltered sun exposure. 15 minutes of daily sun exposure in the early morning or late afternoon sun on bare arms, legs, and face is enough for most light-skinned individuals to create an ample supply of vitamin D. Those with darker skin may require up to 40 minutes of daily exposure. But leave your sunscreen inside!

Since winters in the northwest prevent us from enjoying the benefits of natural sunlight, it is important for us to be getting our Vitamin D through a quality supplement. 2,000 IU per day is a safe amount for some individuals, while most people need quantities closer to 5,000 IU per day. The only way to know exactly how much Vitamin D your body needs is by testing the levels of vitamin D found in your blood. Ideally, your test results should show blood levels of 25 OH D at 60 ng/ml.

So, what is the best Vitamin D supplement to take? My recommendation is to find an organic supplement that is from a natural source, lanolin or high quality fish. Usually the health food store is your best option. Many supplements are synthetically made, and not absorbed fully by your body. They won't specifically mention their synthetic manufacturing process, but the lower grade vitamin D brands are ones typically found in the grocery store.

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