The Link Between Vitamin D and Sunshine

You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that the way that we get our nutrients is through our diet. However, did you know that Vitamin D is in fact formed by the action of sunlight on our skin. Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones and a good immune system to name a few. Read on to find the link between Vitamin D and sunshine.

Vitamin D is formed by the action of sunlight on skin. In fact, it is a cross between a vitamin and hormone. Commonly known as the ‘bone vitamin’, Vitamin D actually does a lot more for our health and immune system than you might realise.

How can you get enough Vitamin D yet avoid too much sun?

Because Vitamin D is formed through sunlight on the skin, exposing your arms, hands and face for 10 minutes a day every second day is generally enough to meet your Vitamin D requirements. However, this all depends on your skin type and where you live. Olive or darker skin tones need around 3 times more exposure of sunlight. If you have fair skin and live in a mostly sunny place such as Brisbane, Australia you would only need 6 to 8 minutes of exposure during summer. In the winter months however  you may need around 16 minutes. If you live in a lower latitude location such as Hobart, Australia you would need around 7 to 9 minutes in summer and 29 minutes in winter.

Sunlight is the main source of Vitamin D for our bodies. However a few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, these are:

  • egg yolks
  • oily fish such as trout, salmon, sardines and mackerel
  • cheese
  • butter
  • cod liver oil
  • fortified foods such as plant milks
  • liver

Did you know? Mushrooms have a unique ability to produce Vitamin D after exposure to UV light. This Vitamin D is then passed onto us when we eat them. A handy hack is to leave store bought mushrooms in the sun for 1 hour before eating them. It really is that simple.

The Link Between Sunshine and Vitamin D

Who’s at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

Vitamin D occurs in two forms: one is produced on the skin (Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol) while the other is found in a limited range of foods (Vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol). In countries where there is plenty of natural sunshine such as Australia and New Zealand it’s surprising to know that around one third of the population has Vitamin D deficiency. In the winter months this deficiency peaks due to less time spent in the sun, travel to and from work in the dark as well as spending more time indoors.

Some more at risk individuals include:

  • babies who are born to mothers who are Vitamin D deficient
  • people with naturally darker skin tones
  • people with little or no sunlight exposure such as the elderly and those in hospital
  • obese individuals as fat stores ‘lock’ the body’s Vitamin D and prevent it from being used by the body.

What are the benefits of Vitamin D?

In a time where taking care of our immune system has never been more important. The link between Vitamin D and sunshine is key. Essential for your immune system, Vitamin D acts as a ‘light switch  in your body turning on and off genes and processes that are needed to maintain health. Your immune cells have Vitamin D receptors. The active Vitamin D is key to “turning the light switch on” to activate key peptides in your immune system that trigger a strong antimicrobial response allowing your body to quickly and effectively fight off invaders before they develop into a full-blown infection. For more information on boosting your immune system check out our earlier blog post here.

Vitamin D also works by improving the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body. This means it can help you to achieve strong bones and teeth as well as maintaining healthy nerve and muscle function.

Should I take a Supplement?

More science is needed on Vitamin D as a supplement, but some scientists argue that getting vitamin D from the sun is more effective than through a supplement. The process that happens before the body makes vitamin D from sun exposure is more beneficial than simply supplementing.

Even so, most experts generally agree that Vitamin D supplements can benefit those who have very low levels, and particularly if they are also unwell.  People with low levels of Vitamin D tend to see the most benefits of supplementation preventing respiratory infections.

To meet your vitamin D needs each day make sure that spend some time away from your screens and enjoy the simple bliss of nature.

References:

Nair R, Maseeh A. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012;3(2):118-126. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506

Baggerly CA, Cuomo RE, French CB, et al. Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(4):359-365. doi:10.1080/07315724.2015.1039866

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