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Vitamin D: The sunshine pill for health

Vitamin D: The sunshine pill for health
Friday, Aug 10, 2012
The Star/Asia News Network

Although our skin makes vitamin D3 when exposed to the sun, ageing makes the skin less productive. The problem is made worse by older people spending more time indoors.

Could shying away from the sun cause more harm to your health than good? There are many reasons why people shy away from the sun, ranging from wanting to maintain fair, porcelain-like skin to fear of getting sunburnt or the dreaded "C" - cancer of the skin.

Many of us know that our skin makes vitamin D3 when exposed to the sun, and this boosts bone strength by encouraging our body to absorb calcium, but how many of us are truly aware that having optimal levels of vitamin D3 can ward off countless diseases?

New medical evidence shows that getting enough vitamin D3 may be the most important thing you can do for your health. Vitamin D is touted as the "new" vitamin C in terms of how it supports the immune system.

But living in tropical sunny Malaysia does not mean that you are getting enough of the sunshine nutrient - vitamin D3.

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is estimated to affect a third to half of the adult population worldwide. Studies have found that many people have lower levels of vitamin D in their blood as they age. Most white collar workers (ie professionals, managers, administrative staff) suffer in this aspect, as they spend all day in their offices.

Although our skin makes vitamin D3 when exposed to the sun, aging makes the skin less productive. The problem is made worse by older people spending more time indoors.

Few food supplements contain vitamin D. Milk fortified with vitamin D is the major dietary source, with only 100 IU per cup. Since there is difficulty obtaining sufficient levels of vitamin D through food or exposure to the sun, most nutritionists recommend taking vitamin D as a supplement.

A slew of new studies suggest diets high in vitamin D may improve life expectancy, and help ward off diabetes, gum disease, multiple sclerosis, and maybe even cancer.

When we go outdoors, most of us slab on sunscreen to protect against skin cancer and other forms of skin damage. This can interfere with the skin's production of vitamin D.

A mere SPF-8 sunscreen cuts vitamin D3 production by about 90 per cent, while an SPF-30 cuts off a whopping 99 per cent. What would be advisable is to wear a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses to cover your face, while exposing as much of your body parts as possible to the sun for at least 20-30 minutes between 10am and 2pm to ensure maximum production of vitamin D3.

If you are unable to do this, it is then advisable to take vitamin D3 supplements.

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