At this time of year, with the sun dipping lower on the southern horizon, many of us feel the loom of dark days and winter illness ahead. This is a natural emotional response to failing light, and perhaps even an ancient echo from times of real deprivation for long-forgotten ancestors.
But there are also purely physical effects of dwindling sunlight. One of the most essential vitamins, a family of steroid hormones that we call vitamin D, is manufactured in the human skin through interaction with ultraviolet rays (UV). When the sun heads south, so does much of our primary natural source of the vitamin.
We can, of course, get a great deal of vitamin D from dietary sources such as egg yolk, butter, liver, fish oils and dark leafy green vegetables. But many people don’t make healthy choices about what they eat, and they may have to resort to a supplement to keep up their vitamin D in the winter months.
Maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D is vital because without it, our bodies cannot take up enough calcium for healthy development of bones and teeth, especially in children. Older people become subject to loss of bone density (osteoporosis), and increased risk of fractures.
Meantime, bear in mind that vitamin D may prove to be even more important than we realize. Although we don’t yet know why, most of the cells in our body have receptors for the vitamin, making this a hot subject of current research.
Research is showing how important vitamin D is for our bodies – both physically and mentally. This essential vitamin is vital to our survival, and its benefits are increasing as more is discovered about it. Below are several reasons why being conscious of adding in vitamin D to our diet, via supplementation, and by exposing our skin to the sun (in moderation) is so beneficial.
- Reduces the risk of acute lung infections
- Reduces the risk for developing cancer
- Reduces behavioural abnormalities in children with autism
- Can reduce the incidence of some autoimmune diseases
- Improves immunity
- Enhances mood and reduces depression
- Can reverse hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Reduces arterial stiffness in African Americans
- Lowers the risk of preterm birth
- Increases calcium absorption
- Improves bone density/prevents osteoporosis
- Prevents rickets (a crippling disease in children causing weakness in the bones due to low vitamin D)
Testing vitamin D levels via blood work can be useful to determine your status, and is correlated with lower heart disease, cancer, and mortality. When we know our level, we have the ability to improve it, and hence prevent future disease from occurring.