Vitamin D - The Sunshine Vitamin
Have you ever scrolled through your newsfeed and felt instantly uplifted by that sunlit image of a popular tourist destination or even swooned over that latest wellness product pictured with the sun shining brightly? Sunshine makes everything more appealing and inviting.
We instinctively associate sunshine with vitality. There is good reason for it – invisible UVB rays in sunlight trigger skin activation of Vitamin D, an essential fat-soluble vitamin, which has numerous functions in the body. Best known for accumulating calcium in bones, it improves sleep and mood. It’s an immune booster, optimises cognition and improves muscle function. Deficiencies are common but can be treated easily to confer positive health benefits.
Role in wellness
Vitamin D strengthens bones via increased calcium absorption in the gut and then incorporating this calcium into the bone matrix, giving us strong, healthy bones. Low vitamin D is a risk factor for brittle, weak bones easily prone to fractures (Osteoporosis). Vitamin D also helps absorb magnesium, phosphate and iron, promoting healthy muscle functioning, bones and tooth enamel.
It’s now known that there are vitamin D receptors in parts of the brain implicated in depression as well as sleep-wake cycles. Studies show that correcting vitamin D deficiency leads to improvement in sleep quality, as well as sleep duration in people with insomnia. Vitamin D directs circadian (sleep) rhythm through secretion of Melatonin, the glorious sleep hormone and aiding the synthesis of Serotonin, an important mood hormone. If you notice a dip in your mood during the winter months, consult your GP and find ways to improve your sunshine exposure. You may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and require a professional opinion. Severe cases do require medication along with lifestyle measures.
Interestingly, Vitamin D is also involved in boosting the immune system in multiple ways, including better absorption of minerals, better communication of immune cells, enhanced recognition of infections by the body’s immune defence cells, as well as reducing auto-immunity (a condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue and organs).
Creating the St Tropez effect
In reality, few of us have that self-care balance perfected amidst a pandemic juggling a busy life with the winter months rolling in or balancing the risk of pre-mature ageing, and preventing skin cancer. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise that up to one in four Australians are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D levels of over 50nmol/L are essential. Still, athletes, expecting mothers, those with certain medical conditions and the elderly require higher levels.
To meet minimum requirements, sunbathe for a few minutes (10 minutes in winter, less in summer) under the mid-morning (before 10am) or mid-afternoon sun (after 3pm) daily. Expose arms and hands (equivalent to 10% body surface area) and avoid the intense midday sun. Sitting in a sunny window with your favourite BB cream won’t count as glass, clothing, darker skin tones and sunscreen filter out UVB rays. Sun protection is always advised for any more prolonged sun exposure due to the risk of skin damage.
When sun exposure is sparse, supplementation can help. Supplements are available in the form of capsules, sprays or injections. Your GP can advise a suitable preparation. Vitamin D in the D3 compound combined with Vitamin K2 (food sources include fermented foods) allow superior, selective absorption and keep steadier blood levels of vitamin D.
Food sources are a great adjunct to natural sunlight. They include sun-soaked shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks, liver, fortified foods (including plant milk) and oily fish (think salmon, sardines and mackerel).
Therefore, bring some sunshine to your everyday! Head to your nearest outdoor park if you don’t have access to a yard or a balcony. Grab a mushroom omelette and maybe add something that helps you feel centred, such as incorporating your favourite meditation or concentrating on your breathing. Be consistent. A few sustainable minutes every day is all you need!
In my clinical experience, a comprehensive health assessment can screen, identify and assist in many dietary and lifestyle-related nutrient deficiencies, including Vitamin D. Routine blood testing is not recommended for most people. If you have a chronic medical condition, it is worth investing in a multi-disciplinary care plan. Your GP can provide an EPC qualified dietician referral.
Dr Maria Kahloon is an integrative GP, recently joining the multi-disciplinary team at Bourke Street Clinic. She has a focus on wellness and holistic disease prevention. Her books were closed to new patients before relocating to Sydney. Now, she is available to take on new patients and would be glad to be a part of your wellness journey.