Did the Sun Get a Bad Rap?Why you need the sunshine “vitamin” Vitamin D was nicknamed, "the sunshine vitamin," because sun exposure helps your body produce this nutrient which is essential to your health. And although we call it a vitamin, Vitamin D is really a hormone. The difference is that we can’t produce vitamins in our bodies, so we need to get them from foods or supplements. Our bodies produce Vitamin D, a hormone that Dr. Frank Lipman calls “the most potent steroid in the body.” What role does vitamin D play in your health? Vitamin D interacts with 2000 genes in the body, and is involved in making hundreds of proteins and enzymes that are crucial to keeping you healthy and preventing disease. That’s why Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in almost every major disease, from helping to prevent 17 types of cancer, to bolstering your immune system and reducing chronic pain. New evidence shows that Vitamin D helps build muscle and strong bones, and helps prevent or alleviate symptoms of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Why are so many people deficient in vitamin D? Our lifestyles have changed over the years. Most of us spend a good portion of our time indoors. Then we coat ourselves in sunscreen to go outside, so we don’t absorb the sun’s rays. It’s also hard to get vitamin D from our diets. We eat fewer vitamin D rich foods such as mackerel and salmon. So to get enough vitamin D every day from food, we’d have to eat 5 servings of salmon or drink 20 cups of fortified milk a day. In addition, “Foods fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, have the synthetic form that doesn’t offer long-term benefits,” says Carolyn Dean, MD. Now, more and more studies are revealing an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. What’s the best way to get vitamin D? “The only reliable sources of vitamin D are the sun and supplements,” says Dr. Frank Lipman. When you’re exposed to sunlight, your skin responds to ultraviolet radiation from the sun by producing vitamin D. Your body is so efficient that it makes 20,000 units of vitamin D after just 20 minutes of sun exposure. That’s 100 times more than the government’s daily recommendation. Getting some sun on your skin is vital because even weak sunscreens can block your ability to generate vitamin D. The key is balance, and making sure you don’t burn or overdo it. How does vitamin D help arthritis and joint pain? In the June issue of Oprah magazine, Dr. Oz wrote about getting some summer sun:
“Less Joint Pain”
Your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissue, may be linked to your exposure to UVB rays, a type of UV light that can’t fully penetrate glass, so you get adequate exposure outside only.
In one Harvard study, women who had the highest exposure to UVB were at a 21% decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis compared with women who had the lowest, possibly because vitamin D can help regulate the activity of immune cells and, in the process, may prevent the body from turning on itself.”Dr. Carolyn Dean, the author of “Future Health Now Encyclopedia” agrees: “Vitamin D may affect arthritis pain by affecting the joints directly or by interacting with the immune system.” So, if vitamin D has the potential to decrease your risk of developing arthritis, improve your arthritis, and reduce pain in your joints, how do you make sure you get enough? Here are three strategies to keep your vitamin D at optimum levels: 1. Get out in the sun. The amount of sun you need depends on where you live, the season, the time of day, your skin pigmentation, and many other factors. If you are not Vitamin D deficient, about 20 minutes of sun a day on your face, arms or legs without sunscreen will generate enough vitamin D. If you don’t want to expose your face to the sun, apply sunscreen there and leave your hands or legs exposed. 2. Consider a daily supplement. If you live in northern latitudes, you can get enough vitamin D by exposing your skin a few times a week in spring, summer and fall. But in winter, the sun’s rays aren’t strong enough for you to absorb enough vitamin D even if you sit outside all day, so you need a supplement. Check with your doctor. Most now recommend 800 to 1000 international units or IU of vitamin D a day. Some multivitamins contain small amounts, so check the label and consider adding the difference. Be sure to choose vitamin D3, the natural, active form. Vitamin D2 is not as effective or as easy for your body to absorb. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, it’s possible, but rare to overdose on the supplement as it’s fat soluble and can be stored in the body. If you are taking more than 5000 IU a day, he recommends having your blood levels monitored. 3. Check your Vitamin D levels. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include chronic pain, frequent infections, depression, weak bones, and gastrointestinal problems. If you suspect you are deficient, ask your doctor about a blood test to measure your levels. Then, get out and enjoy the sun, sensibly. Remember, the sun is your friend and you must respect her.
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