Vitamin D is vital. It is found in cells throughout the body and is thought to drive 1000’s of genes. Scientific research is currently linking vitamin D deficiency with diseases as diverse as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, food allergies and autoimmune issues. In an article written by Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, a small randomised controlled trial revealed Vitamin D’s influence on many gene pathways which controlled immune function, transcription regulation, cell cycle activity, epigenetic modification, DNA regulation, DNA repair, and cellular response to stress (1).
A healthy serum level of vitamin D is around 50 to 60 nanomoles per litre according to Endocrinologist, Professor Peter Ebeling of the University of Melbourne. His research has found that 31 per cent of Australians are deficient in vitamin D (2). In our Aussie sun-soaked environment it is hard to believe we could have such statistics. Why is this so?
Firstly, it is important to understand what Vitamin D is. Vitamin D is actually an oil soluble steroid hormone and it is formed when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun. When UVB strikes the surface of your skin, it converts a cholesterol derivative in your skin into vitamin D3.
Vitamin D deficiency can occur for a number of reasons:
- Limited exposure to sunlight. Because the body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, you may be at risk of deficiency if you are homebound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or have an occupation or past time that prevents sun exposure.
- Inadequate dietary intake. This is likely if you follow a strict vegetarian diet, because most of the natural sources are animal-based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, fortified milk/cheese, and beef liver.
- Decreased digestive absorption. Your digestive tract may not adequately absorb vitamin D due to certain medical problems. Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and coeliac disease can affect your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat.
- Altered cholesterol levels. One of the precursors for vitamin D is cholesterol. If you’re taking statin drugs, or proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec or Prevocid, which are typically used to treat ulcer conditions, you’ll naturally lower your cholesterol levels. This in turn will decrease your body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D.
- Dark skin. The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies show that older adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Obesity. Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People with a body mass index of 30 or greater often have low blood levels of vitamin D.
Sunlight is by far the best natural source of vitamin D.
When you get your ‘D’ from sunshine your body takes what it needs, utilises the various co-factors required for synthesis and de-metabolises any excesses. Your body’s own enate wisdom knows how to modulate the conversion to reach D equilibrium.
Sensible sun therapy means avoiding getting burned while exposing as much of the body (minimum arms, legs and face) as possible for approximately 10-20minutes in mid-day sun without sun screen or hat. The time for each individual will vary depending on your particular skin type, latitude and season, so make sure you gauge this for yourself).
Can washing ourselves impact our Vitamin D levels?
It may not be as simple as sun-exposing every day – even when we do have the time, freedom and weather to do it. The Vitamin D3 formed on the surface of your skin must penetrate into the blood stream. This can take a lot longer than we previously believed. According to Dr Mercola new evidence shows that it can take up to 48 hours before the majority of vitamin D generated by sensible sun-exposure is absorbed. This means if we hop in the shower after a lovely sun soaked day, by washing with soap we potentially disrupt this important conversion and it can undo the beneficial sun exposures (3).
I’m guessing not many want to forgo their daily bathing rituals (although some may not have an issue with this at all…). For those into daily washing it is recommended to avoid soaping the larger areas of the body and limit it’s use to key areas requiring hygiene such as underneath your arms and your groin area to ensure our sun soaking efforts are not wasted.
Can Sunshine Lower Your Vitamin D Levels?
It is important to note that there are two primary forms of ultraviolet radiation from the sun: UVA, and UVB, and they have different wave lengths and impact your body in different ways. Because the UVA has a longer wavelength, it penetrates materials more easily, such as the earth’s atmosphere and window glass.
Vitamin D3 is formed from exposure to UVB rays, whereas UVA radiation actually destroys vitamin D. Window glass will effectively filter out the majority of UVB radiation, but it minimally filters out UVAs. When you’re exposed to sunlight through windows — in your office, your home or your car — you get the potentially harmful UVA but virtually none of the beneficial UVB.
This can lead to significant health problems, because in addition to destroying vitamin D3, UVA’s also increase oxidative stress.
UVA is one of the primary culprits behind skin cancer, and it increases photo aging of your skin. It’s also what causes you to tan. You can actually get vitamin D without significantly darkening your skin, because the UVB wavelength does not stimulate the melanin pigment to produce a tan.
Normally, of course, when you get tanned from outdoor sun exposure you’re getting both UVA and UVB at the same time, so it’s not a problem. But when you are indoors and expose yourself to sunlight filtered through window glass, you are increasing your risk of a variety of conditions, primarily skin cancer, because the UVA’s are effectively destroying your vitamin D3 levels while you’re getting none of the benefits from UVB.
Summary of Key Messages
- The benefits of Vitamin D on our health are phenomenal.
- The optimal way to get your vitamin D is through safe exposure to the sun, taking care not to get sunburned. This will vary according to the type of skin you have, where you are located and the time of the day so it is important to find what works for you.
- If you’re going to shower after spending time outdoors in the sun, don’t use soap for at least two days (except for the important bits), to maximize the absorption of vitamin D in your skin.
- If for whatever reason you’re unable to eat a diet naturally high in Vitamin D or practise sensible sun therapy then it may be wise to use an oral or sublingual vitamin D3, which can also eliminate the whole issue of absorbing the vitamin D3 from your skin. When supplementing, it is important to check your vitamin D levels regularly, using a qualified lab to make sure you’re within the optimal range and avoid overdosing.
- Sensible sun therapy involves not getting burned.
About the Writer:
Cherie Gorringe is a university trained Natur- opathic Clinician, Food and Nutrition coach, Workshop Facilitator, Public Educator and real food advocate of over 12 years. Cherie fuses professional clinical advice with practi- cal preventative health guidance regularly delivered in the Evolve Your Health Wellness Seminar Series held in Sandgate, Brisbane. The monthly sessions are designed to inspire and encourage self-responsible health habits for increased vitality and longevity. Cherie owns and operates Evolve Your Health – Holistic Functional Medi- cine Clinic and as a full member of NHAA (National Herbalists As- sociation of Australia), and is able to offer private health insurance rebates with Hicaps. Cherie currently consults from Bayside Osteo Clinic Shop 1, Laurels Arcade, 113 Brighton Rd, Sandgate 4017.
Visit www.evolveyourhealth.com.au or phone M: 0450 971325.