I was a sunshine baby – I spent a good part of the first twelve years of my life in Ceylon as it was called before, Malta and South Africa travelling with our father who was in the Royal Navy. I was brown most of time and in those days you might have got a bit of baby lotion on your skin after sun and we did wear hats, but there were no over the counter sun blocks as such.
At various other times in my life I have lived in sunnier climates including in Spain and I can definitely notice the difference in my health, energy levels and mental well being when I have shorter winters and more sunshine in my life. This includes much improved joint pain, general aches and pains and immune system.
When I lived in Ireland for five years back in the late 1990s, I noticed a difference in my general well-being during the winter months in particular and I began to supplement with vitamin B3 which helped. Something I did not have to do when living in the sun rich climate of Spain. That certainly proved to me the importance of the vitamin and I do make sure that apart from including the foods that do contain a small amount of the nutrient I get outside as much as possible.
In my blogs on cholesterol – I mentioned that Vitamin D thinks its a hormone – and our bodies have a different process to obtain and utilise it that is partly digestive but primarily through our exposure to the sun.
Vitamin D is necessary for our bone health (aches and pains), immune system (frequent infections), arthritis (joint pain) hormonal fluctuations (SAD is more prevalent in women).
Most people think if they are taking in Calcium that they will be keeping their bones healthy but in fact Vitamin D is vital in this process.
To illustrate how important Vitamin D is to our skeleton here is a brief overview of how it works.
Our bones are living tissue that grows and regenerates throughout our lifetime. It is not static and old bone is removed and replaced with new bone continuously, a process that requires the essential elements of bone to be available from our diet and from chemical reactions in the body. There are four main components that are needed on a daily basis.
Minerals – calcium, magnesium and phosphorus – Matrix – collagen fibres (gristle) – Osteoclasts – bone removing cells and Osteoblasts– bone producing cells.
If you have ever made paper mache sculptures at school you will used a chicken wire framework first of all to establish the shape that you wanted and then overlaid your strips of wet paper and allowed them to harden. The bone making process is very similar.
A network of collagen fibres forms the base and it is then overlaid with the minerals. The strength of the finished bone is dependent on the amount of mineralisation that takes place. Osteoclasts will remove old bone when needed and this results in a need to produce new collagen matrix to attract new minerals for the repair process.
Vitamin D’s role is essential to ensure that sufficient calcium and phosphorus is attracted to the new matrix and that the new bone is strong. If you are deficient in this vitamin more bone is discarded than replaced leading to soft and malformed bones.
There is a worrying increase in the numbers of children being diagnosed with this condition which is called rickets which is why recently the health service has suggested giving all children of 5 and upwards Vitamin D supplementation.
That is because most of our children are no longer exposed to sunlight which is the most efficient way for our bodies to produce the essential Vitamin D it needs. Consider these accumulative factors – less PE at school – increased traffic so no more playing in the streets, more apartment living without gardens, fear of child abuse and abductions so children are kept inside, more television, video games and computer time, both parents working so the children are kept after school or inside and finally when out in the rare holiday sun, children are covered in factor 40. Anything over factor 8 and our skin cannot absorb enough sunshine to produce vitamin D.
The last thing I am suggesting is that you go and lie in the midday sun for three hours and burn to a crisp but during the summer months getting 45 minutes of sunshine on your arms and chest and face with a light factor, either early to mid morning or late afternoon should be sufficient for most people.
There are also dietary sources of Vitamin D – We need at least 10ug per day and we can get this if we eat eggs and oily fish regularly during the week as part of a balanced diet. You can also take cod liver oil capsules and as I mentioned at the beginning of the post; Vitamin D is one of the few supplements that I will take through the winter months.
For the other components involved in bone health; make sure you are obtaining calcium from dairy products, oily fish such as sardines and salmon, including canned salmon, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and if vegetarian, tofu.
Magnesium is found in dairy products, fish, meat, seafood, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, whole grain cereals and dark green vegetables.
Phosphorus can be found in the proteins in your diet such as poultry and whole grains.
We as adults have a responsibility to ensure the health of our children and however difficult that may be in this modern day and age giving them a safe environment to play and exercise in the sunshine has to be a priority for us all. Combined with a healthy, natural and unprocessed diet with far less sugars and these children will not run the risk of having bowed legs due to rickets.
©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007
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