With the hot, sunny weather coming to an end, we may all very well be longing for those cooler days and nights. But…. have YOU made the most of the sunshine this Summer?
Sunshine is THE best source of the all-important Vitamin D; the vitamin well-known for its immune supportive benefits.
What exactly does vitamin D do for you?
As we have already noted, vitamin D supports immune function and offers increased protection from colds and flu. Topping up on this sunshine vitamin before winter starts ensures you have adequate levels to last you throughout the colder season when the sun is not a reliable source of the UVB rays needed for making vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays a big role in regulating the immune system; this means that it keeps any immune reaction within normal ranges preventing the immune system from over-reacting and causing undesirable inflammation seen in conditions such as eczema, asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases.
How can I get vitamin D naturally?
Exposure to UVB rays in sunshine provides us with the opportunity to produce over 1000 times more vitamin D than what we can get from food alone. The vitamin D that is made in our skin from sunshine is also more readily used by the body.
I will list food sources below but there are very few foods that have good levels of vitamin D.
How do I get vitamin D from the sun?
The general recommendation is to bathe in the sun for 15-20 minutes every day or every other day. Small amounts regularly is much more beneficial than a couple of hours once a week. We want at least 30% of our skin exposed to make the most of this time and our best solar panels are our tummy and inner thighs.
There are quite a number of things to consider to make sure we are making the most of that sun exposure.
- Not a lot of UVB reaches us in the early morning or late afternoon hours of the day. The most efficient time is when the sun is higher in the sky between 10 am and 3 pm. Just outside these times would be a good time to consider.
- There is much less UVB when the sun sits lower in the sky during the winter months so you may need to consider sun bathing inside the 10am to 3pm time slot.
- There is much less UVB hitting the Earth’s surface the further you live from the Equator. So if you live in places such as Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide, you may have virtually no ability to make vitamin D from the winter sun.
- Sunscreen actually blocks 95-99% of UVB absorption so we need to have unprotected sun exposure within reason to avoid damaging/ burning our skin.
- Air pollution is another UVB blocker.
- The colour of our skin means safe unprotected sun exposure is less for those with fair skin and more for those with dark skin. People with very dark skin need around six times more exposure to UV radiation to produce as much vitamin D as someone with fair skin. Someone with dark skin may benefit from sun exposure in the middle of the day.
What foods can we eat to increase our vitamin D levels?
Getting vitamin D from food is not that easy.
The best food source of vitamin D is cod liver oil. This is a supplement I often prescribe vitamin D supplements in kids who are struggling with frequent infections, food allergies, eczema and asthma.
Next in line would be salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna, and prawns.
Any other food sources contain minimal amounts so are not recommended as a sole reliable source for your vitamin D.
These include egg yolks, organic liver, and caviar.
Mushrooms are also included as a vitamin D source but these need to have been exposed to the sun and most mushrooms are grown indoors. There is the trick of putting your mushrooms outside to soak up some vitamin D but the vitamin D made is not as potent as that found in animal sources.
There are also vitamin-D fortified foods- such as dairy and alternative milks- for those who do not eat the above animal sources.
Take home message
Safe sun exposure on a regular basis is key to ensuring optimal vitamin D levels to support not only our kids’ immune health but also their sleep, mood and brain function.
If you are concerned about your child’s limited sun exposure and vitamin D levels is compromising their health, get in touch today to discuss a plan that will put them back on track.