The Sunshine Vitamin

It’s warming up and people are having more fun in the sun!

This is so good for your health and I’m going to tell you why. The sun is necessary for your body to make Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin! Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin though. It’s a hormone!

Unlike other vitamins, only 10% of your body’s vitamin D needs come from the foods you eat, such as fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks and cheese. The rest of your Vitamin D needs are made by your body, but relies on the sun! Let me explain why. When ultraviolet B (UV-B) rays of sunlight hit your skin, a chemical reaction occurs in the skin cells that produces cholecalciferol. The liver converts this into calcidiol. Then the kidneys convert calcidiol into calcitriol, the ACTIVE form of this hormone, Vitamin D! So, when you get your lab results back from your doctor, your vitamin D levels that they are reading is actually calcitriol levels!

Daily dietary recommendations for Vitamin D are currently 200 IUs per day up to age 50 (more for those over age 50) but most health professionals agree this is far to low for optimum health. Vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise due to increased sunscreen use and a change from an outdoor lifestyle to an indoor one. It is wise to use caution when exposing your skin to many hours in the sun, but the first 10 to 30 minutes should be used to promote your overall body’s health. Exposing your body (arms and legs with no sunscreen) for 10-30 minutes of natural sunlight in mid-day (lunchtime) provides the energy to produces 10,000 IU’s of Vitamin D. This is sufficient for optimal levels of Vitamin D in your body. It’s important to note that UV radiation, needed by the skin to promote Vitamin D production, does not penetrate glass, so you must be outside! The color of your skin matters, too! Fair skinned people only need a few minutes, up to 10, without sunscreen. Tan and/or Hispanic individuals need 15 -20 minutes. Dark skinned people need more, up to 6 times more than a fair skinned person. Because Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, the body can store it for up to 2 months. The “Winter Blues” is usually a result of Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation should be considered during those months of low sun exposure.

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why do you need Vitamin D? This hormone helps your body absorb calcium, enabling the mineralization of bones, making them strong and healthy. Too little Vitamin D can lead to rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D is also necessary for a properly functioning immune system. Low levels can make you more prone to illness and infections. Optimal levels of Vitamin D are also necessary to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer (breast, prostate and colon). The Archives of Internal Medicine have published research showing people with low levels of D have more than double the risk of death due to heart disease. Other studies support increased risk of heart attacks in those with low levels of D.

Vitamin D deficiencies are also linked to mood disorders, depression, and insomnia. Vitamin D regulates the excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitters, a chemical in the body that carries signals along and between nerves. Vitamin D levels affect the neurotransmitters adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine production in the brain. Adrenaline is essential to metabolism. It regulates attention, mental focus, arousal and cognition. Noradrenaline boosts your brain’s performance and initiates your survival fight or flight mechanism. Dopamine allows us to stay in the moment! It is key to regulating our pleasure centers, which is why it has a role in addictions. Dopamine is also critical for memory and motor skills. Vitamin D is responsible for keeping your serotonin levels in check, too! Serotonin (5-HTP) is the neurotransmitter necessary for mood balance, contributing to decreased anxiety, happiness and wellbeing. It is also responsible for constricting smooth muscles, bowel function, clotting and transmitting nerve cell impulses. It’s clear to see why Vitamin D is essential to your overall health and wellbeing! So, soak up the sun, it’s good for you!