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Hungry for Spring? That's Because Sunshine
is a Vitamin!



by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM



Just back from Florida, I'm a new woman. Colors, palm trees, beaches – and a big, steady infusion of the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D. Your body creates Vitamin D out of cholesterol molecules when the sun hits your skin – technically, it's a steroid hormone, not a vitamin. Mainers are extra likely to have low D because we get so little sunshine most of the year. (In fact, anyone living north of Philadelphia is at risk for sunshine starvation.) Plus, I know – you've been wearing hats and SPF 50 for years now, to prevent skin cancer. Sadly, this is the recipe for inadequate Vitamin D.

You need D to absorb calcium and grow healthy bones. Malnourished kids get rickets, where bones grow curved instead of straight. Years ago, Vitamin D was legislated to be added to milk – it was thought that if you drank milk, you'd get what you needed. (The alternative was a daily tablespoon of cod liver oil.) New research indicates that the amount of D we used to think was "enough" – isn't. Watch for the recommendation to double or quadruple within the next couple years. Osteoporosis is also a sign of Vitamin D deficiency. And yes, we are starting to see rickets again.

But folks, there is a lot more to Vitamin D than bones. Come to find out, low Vitamin D may be a risk factor for breast, colon, and skin cancers (it regulates cell growth); depression (it helps brain chemicals interact); heart disease (it helps muscle cells); immune deficiency, and blood sugar problems, too. It's been linked to multiple sclerosis – a disease more common in the northern US. Who knew?! We smack ourselves in the forehead.

To keep your Vitamin D level up, expose your skin to the sun without sunscreen for 10-15 minutes on sunny days. Don't bake in the sun like a lizard – just leave your face, hands, and arms bare walking to the mailbox or into the grocery store when it is not cloudy. Do not burn yourself even a little bit.

Consider having your blood Vitamin D level tested – just like you'd have a cholesterol test. I test my patients routinely, and about half are seriously deficient in D. Seriously. If you're low, get out your magnifying glass and look for a supplement containing cholecalciferol or D3, the natural form of Vitamin D. The current upper limit for adults is 2000 IU a day, so don't go higher than that without checking in with someone who knows about these things (I do not mean the clerk in the health food store.) For kids, it varies by age, so check with your pediatric practitioner.

The Vitamin D story teaches us that there's a big difference between what you need to consume to prevent nutrient deficiency diseases and what you probably "really need." I predict that you'll hear more stories like this in the future as scientists cop to needing a new perspective on nutrition research. Till then, enjoy the sunny weather!




Article © Copyright 2008 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety," These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.




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