The Sunshine Vitamin, also known as Vitamin D, is increasingly becoming a hot topic when it comes to health. Your body produces this vitamin as a response to sun exposure, hence its nickname, Sunshine Vitamin. Not only that, but humans can also consume foods, or enjoy a tanning session to produce Vitamin D.
Having enough of Vitamin D in our system is essential for various reasons, for example:
– Preserve the health status of bones and teeth
– Keep diabetes and insulin levels under control
– Help with the cardiovascular process
But before we jump into the benefits of the Sunshine Vitamin, let us discuss in-depth what Vitamin D is.
What Is Vitamin D?
In reality, Vitamin D isn’t a vitamin but more of a natural hormone, a prohormone to be exact. It’s similar to estrogen, cholesterol, and testosterone, which means that your body can create Vitamin D when sunlight hits your skin. This conversion is called Vitamin D3.
Holick (2004) suggests that a reasonable amount of sun exposure for 5 – 10 minutes, 2 – 3 weeks on the arms and legs or the hands, arms, and face, lets most people produce a reasonable amount of Vitamin D. However, our body breaks it quite quickly. Therefore, our supply can run low, especially during the winter months.
Health Benefits of Vitamin D
Because of its structure, Vitamin D helps other hormones to do their jobs. For example, it helps the body to absorb calcium, magnesium, and iron better. But its real role comes when our body converts it into Vitamin D3, leading to various health benefits, from maintaining a healthy bone structure to boosting your immune system.
Boost Immune system
It’s an old wife’s tale that when you’re feeling under the weather to take some Vitamin C. But Vitamin D can boost your immune system as well. According to a 2010 study, Vitamin D reduces the chances of getting the flu.
Another study found that Vitamin D also helps prevent several types of autoimmune diseases. This is due to the vitamin’s regulating properties which regulate the immunological functions affected by inflammation. In other words, it encourages the production of white blood cells, which in turn boost your immune system.
Help Treat Depression
Besides helping us when we’re physically ill, Vitamin D also aids us when it comes to regulating our mood depression. Researchers found that people with depression who receive a boost in Vitamin D noticed an improvement in their symptoms.
In another study about fibromyalgia, researchers found Vitamin D deficiency was more common in those who were also experiencing anxiety and depression.
Not only that, in the winter months, many people tend to experience seasonal affective disorder and depression. That’s because the cold and cloudy weather affects your natural Vitamin D intake.
Helps With Weight Loss
A boost to your Vitamin D levels could also help in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Researchers found that Vitamin D has an appetite-suppressing effect on the human body. Thus, people who enjoy sun’s rays or get their Vitamin D boost from other sources such as from tanning, tend to eat less.
Supports Healthy Bones
Vitamin D plays an important role when it comes to regulating calcium and phosphorus levels, two essential elements for supporting healthy bones.
Your bones naturally break down, but thanks to Vitamin D – and other minerals – they recover. But without enough of the Sunshine Vitamin, our bones can become fragile or misshapen. In adults, this could lead to osteomalacia (softening of the bones) or osteoporosis.
Reduce the risk of diabetes
What is the leading cause of Diabetes Type 2? People usually link this to poor diet and exercise. However, a study suggests that a lack of sunshine or Vitamin D could be a factor.
A deficiency in Vitamin D leads to inflammation, which in turn negatively impacts insulin secretion and glucose levels. Therefore, making it challenging to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
Decreases Cardiovascular Disease
In 2008 researchers revealed those who have low Vitamin D levels are at risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, heart failure and other diseases involving the arteries.
But why is that? Simple, it’s because the Sunshine Vitamin increases an enzyme called renin, which regulates the amount of blood that goes through our veins and arteries. In other words, low levels of Vitamin D negatively impact your heart’s condition.
Vitamin D has countless health benefits, not only physical but mentally as well. To lead a healthy life, it’s essential to keep an eye on your Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D Deficiency
We’ve mentioned all the benefits that an adequate amount of Vitamin D can have on your mind and body. Unfortunately, countless people around the world don’t produce enough of this essential hormone.
There are many reasons why people are Vitamin D deficient. For example, those with a dark skin tone absorb fewer UVB rays from the sun needed to produce vitamin D.
Another reason is sunscreen. Those with SPF 30 or higher, impedes your body’s ability to synthesise the vitamin by 95%. For you to enjoy the benefits of Vitamin D, you have to expose your skin directly to sunlight.
Also, your environment and life choice play a role why you might not create enough of the Sunshine Vitamin. People who live in northern latitudes – 40 degrees north or 40 degrees south- or areas of high pollution, work at night, and stay indoors during the day can develop undesired symptoms.
The most common signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include:
• Multiple bone fractures
• Increased risk of various cancer
• Neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer and Dementia
Moreover, studies have found that low levels of Vitamin D play a role in many major diseases, including but not limited to:
• Getting sick or infected more often
• High-blood pressure
• Weight gain
• Bone and joint pain
• Mood swings
Vitamin D Sources: Sunlight, Food, and Tanning
People who don’t produce enough of the Sunshine Hormone should aim to consume extra Vitamin D from whenever and wherever possible.
The most common and efficient way is with sunlight. Step outside and enjoy a few minutes of the sun. The amount of time you need is directly related to your skin tone . For example, if it takes you 30 minutes of sun exposure to burn, you need approximately 15 minutes of sun to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D. Similarly, if it takes you two or three hours to burn, you’ll need about an hour of sunshine to reach appropriate Vitamin D levels.
You can also increase your Vitamin D levels with food, such as fish oil, fatty fishes, eggs and chicken. Another method that will give you virtually the same results as sunlight are tanning machines. People who live in northern latitudes – or don’t get enough Vitamin D from food could try stepping inside a tanning device with a UVB component. A few minutes under a tanning bed boosts your Vitamin D production like sunlight does.
Sunbeds enable exposure to nearly 100% of skin in a controlled manner which amplifies their effectiveness for vitamin D production
Dr Samantha Kimball, lead author and research director at Pure North S’Energy Foundation in Calgary, AB. Suggests that tanning beds can boost Vitamin D levels.
Tests can only determine the amount of Vitamin D that your body has and needs. Your doctor will measure your 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels to find out how much vitamin D is active in your body. So, before you try anything consult your primary care physician.