Vitamin D is fast becoming the nutrient of choice with researchers and it is fast becoming clear just how important this steroid hormone is. Did I say steroid?? Don’t be afraid. You won’t be blowing out anytime soon. Vitamin D has long been known for its important role in regulating body levels of calcium and phosphorus, and in mineralisation of bone.
More recently, it has become clear that receptors for vitamin D are present in a wide variety of cells, and that this hormone has biologic effects which extend far beyond control of mineral metabolism.
Without a sufficient amount of D vitamin, calcium can’t be absorbed properly and this can lead to many problems, ranging from brain dysfunction to weakening of the bones. So anyone worried about osteoarthritis or other symptoms that may be caused by low plasma D level are:
• Loss of muscular strength and lean mass
• Higher risk of numerous cancers
• Lower immunity
• Neurological problems – (memory and concentration problems, depression, mood changes)
• Higher risk of diabetes and/or insulin resistance and type II diabetes
How do you get it?
The human body was designed to receive vitamin D by producing it in response to sunlight exposure – specifically, the UVB band of the Sun’s ultraviolet spectrum. Since this is the way Nature intended, it should be considered the method of choice. Studies show large quantities of vitamin D3, are synthesised in the skin in response to full-body summer sun exposure – about 10,000 international units (IU). Because this happens within minutes, overexposure is not necessary. In fact, one will have made all the vitamin D they are going to make for the day in about one-half the time it takes for their skin to turn pink.
Factors affecting vitamin D production from sunlight:
There are many factors that influence how much vitamin D is produced in response to UVB exposure 2, the most well-known factor being the angle of the Sun’s rays.
Angle of the Sun’s rays:
Time of day, season, and latitude all determine the amount of UVB that reaches your skin. When the Sun’s rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere at too much of an angle, the atmosphere diffuses (blocks) the UVB portion of the rays. This occurs during the early and latter parts of the day, during the winter season (what is called “Vitamin D Winter”), and increases as one moves further away from the equator. A good rule of thumb is: If your shadow is longer than you are tall (an indicator of the oblique angle of the Sun), you are not making much vitamin D.
Time of day:
For vitamin D production, sun exposure should be midday between the hours of approximately 10am-2pm. These hours will vary slightly according to latitude. The closer to solar noon, the more vitamin D produced.
Season: Vitamin D Winter and latitude.
What latitude you reside at will affect the length of your Vitamin D Winter. Vitamin D Winter is when no vitamin D production is possible due to the atmosphere blocking all UVB. This lasts for several months, with the duration of time increasing as you move further from the equator.
Estimated Vitamin D Winter months according to latitude:
Latitudes from zero degrees to around 35 degrees north or south allow year-round vitamin D production, though the amount produced will decrease as latitude increases.
Latitudes above 40 degrees north will experience Vitamin D Winter from around November through early March.•
Latitudes below 40 degrees south, around June through August.
Latitudes above 50 degrees north, October through early April.
Latitudes below 50 degrees south, mid-April through July.
An individual’s skin phototype also influences the the amount of vitamin D produced relative to length of sun exposure time. Skin phototype is determined by melanin content (how light or dark one’s skin is).
I – White; very fair; red or blond hair; blue eyes; freckles Always burns, never tans
II – White; fair; red or blond hair; blue, hazel, or green eyes Usually burns, tans with difficulty
III – Cream white; fair with any eye or hair color; very common Sometimes mild burn, gradually tans
IV – Brown; typical Mediterranean Caucasian skin. Rarely burns, tans with ease
V – Dark Brown; mid-eastern skin types: Very rarely burns, tans very easily
VI – Black Never burns, tans very easily
Vitamin D synthesis occurs faster in individuals with skin types I through III than in those with skin types V and VI. Skin type I will need around 15 minutes of sun exposure whereas those with dark skin will need longer exposure times – up to 6 times longer. This is because darker skin has increased melanin content. Melanin is Nature’s built-in protection against skin damage from excess ultraviolet exposure and so it allows less UV to enter the skin. This is why those whose ancestry is native to regions near the equator have darker skin than those native to regions located at higher latitudes. It is also why those with darker skin living at higher latitudes have higher prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency.
Skin type, latitude, and season:
Combining the factors of skin type, latitude, and season one can see how difficult it can be to determine the necessary length of sun exposure time for a particular individual to produce optimal amounts of vitamin D.
There are other factors which affect the amount of vitamin D produced in response to UVB. They are:
Amount of skin exposed – at least 40% of the entire skin surface should be exposed for optimal vitamin D production. The torso produces the most, legs and arms some, hands and face very little or none at all.
Age – vitamin D synthesis can take up to 4 times as long for those over the age of 60 and under the age of 20, apparently due to having less 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin.
Sunscreen – an SPF as low as 8 can block as much as 95% of vitamin D production
Altitude – more UVB is filtered out of the atmosphere at the beach as opposed to a mountain top.
Cloud cover – water droplets in the air scatter some UVB back into space.
Air pollution — particles in the air (such as ozone, haze, and sulphur dioxide) can either absorb UVB or reflect it back into space.
Being behind glass – glass blocks all UVB.
Are you vitamin D Deficient?
There is only one way to tell. Next time you’re at the doctor getting a regular check up, ask for a 25 OH Vitamin D3 test to check yours. Your levels should be between 90 – 130 See you in the gym!
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