This is the time of year when we are all in need of a big boost of sunshine to keep us going. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, we lose out on topping ourselves up with that all-important vitamin D which we only obtain adequately from the sun’s UVB rays.
The sun needs to be high enough in the sky for the rays to reach us in sufficient amounts, which means that even if we do expose ourselves to the small rations of sunlight available from mid to late Autumn to mid Spring it probably isn’t going to be enough to activate the vitamin D receptors in the skin.
Sunlight and your skin
When the sun’s UVB hits your skin, a chemical reaction takes place. A form of cholesterol called 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) that is naturally occurring in your skin absorbs the UVB radiation and this gets converted into cholecalciferol. This then travels through your bloodstream to your liver and then onto your kidneys where more conversions take place. The original 7-DHC is converted into a hormone form which your body can use. There are vitamin D receptors all over the human body which gives you an idea of how much we need it and the variety of jobs it has to do.
What does Vitamin D support?
- Bone health. This is the most common link people make to the function of vitamin D. It helps us absorb calcium into the bones and maintains calcium levels. Our bone health also requires K2 and magnesium; when looking at supplementing for bone health this time of year make sure your supplement comes with vitamin K2 and you have plenty of magnesium in your diet.
- The immune system. Our immune cells contain vitamin D receptors. A deficiency in vitamin D could leave us more susceptible to coughs, colds and inflammatory responses such as autoimmune disorders (ie rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders). Vitamin D modulates the immune system which means that it can bring it back into balance if over or under active. An overactive immune system can develop into an autoimmune disease. If you have an autoimmune disease, or it runs in your family, you should know your vitamin D status before supplementing. The right amount of vitamin D can bring your immune system into balance and too much could upregulate the immune system, resulting in it becoming over active.
- Your mood. You may have heard of vitamin D being a hormone. Hormone’s are essentially chemical messengers that move about our body. There are vitamin D receptors in our brain and studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increase in mood disorders including depression, SAD, insomnia, anxiety and extreme moods during PMS. Testosterone and estrogen production have also be affected by low levels of vitamin D, imbalances manifesting in unwanted symptoms.
Topping up with sunshine…
For many of us who are fortunate enough to be able to come and go as we please in our daily lives, in the warmer months we can ensure we sit in the sun each day and top up our vitamin D levels.
For the elderly it is only too common for them to spend most of their time indoors. For some, even in the height of summer, they may choose not to sit outside. This could lead to a deficiency and maybe even contribute to poor health.
We know that vitamin D has a huge impact on bone health and mood. Falls and low mood are common factors in our elderly population and especially for those in residential care.
Top tips for boosting vitamin D
Here are some tips on how we can help boost our vitamin D levels for ourselves and especially our elderly generation:
In the summer each morning before the sun is at its highest sit outside with no sun cream and at least your arms, face and hands exposed for 20 minutes, or until your skin begins to turn a slight pink, NOT burning but that initial change in colour we all get when sitting in the sun.
If you are lucky enough to have naturally darker coloured skin you will get to sit in the sun for longer. The darker pigment is built to stay in the sun for longer periods and may take slightly longer to really begin to activate the vitamin D making process.
For those of you caring for elderly residents or relatives, try and encourage them as much as possible to be outside in the warmer months. Even a hit of fresh air can do wonders for the soul and really lift a person’s wellbeing.
Eat foods rich in vitamin D
Vitamin D in foods isn’t the most reliable way of topping up your levels but could contribute in some way. If you have a relative or resident who is adamant that they won’t go outside or can’t for some reason, then something is always better than nothing!
Food sources include canned sardines, salmon, tuna, butter, sunflower seeds, liver, eggs, fortified milk, mushrooms and natural cheese
We store vitamin D for up to 4 months so from the height of summer, if we have made the most of the sun, we should be fully stocked up until around October or November. From then onwards, one way of ensuring we won’t become deficient is supplementation. Equally for the elderly supplementation could be a way of supporting bone health and wellbeing.
If you are going to supplement then first check your levels and know if you are low and actually need to supplement. If you are deficient then speak to a health professional about the amount you would need to supplement to get your status to optimum again. After 3 months re-test and adjust your dose accordingly, with guidance.
When buying a vitamin D supplement make sure it comes with K2 and magnesium (if your diet is low in magnesium) and remember vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so either make sure it is emulsified in its supplement form, or make sure you take it with foods that contain some fats. This same practice applies to anyone of any age.
If testing and supplementation is something you feel you would like your loved one living in a Nellsar Home to explore, speak to me and I can help.
Nutrition & Wellness Manager