The Magic of Sunny D
By Anna Sachse
Most doctors and dietitians agree that if you eat a balanced diet rich in lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, you will likely get most of the vitamins and nutrients you need from your food. Surely there are very few folks in SoCal that subside on In-N-Out, Krispy Kreme and coke (carbonated liquid or powder), right? Well, anyhow, if, in a utopian world, you were to be eating correctly, taking in extra vitamins, (whether from one-a-day pills, Emergen-C, Vitamin Water, etc.) would basically be a pointless waste of money. The fact is, the human body can only process a maximum level of most vitamins—we excrete any excess of the water-soluble variety (all B vitamins and C) in our urine, and, although we can store the fat-soluble ones (A, E and K) in our fat tissues, a build-up of excess vitamins isn’t helpful (it can actually lead to toxicity).
So I already knew all that. Then one day I was interviewing Sue Moores, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, and I happened to ask her if there was any particular vitamin that we actually should be paying better attention to, even if we were eating a healthy diet. Her response? Due to environmental and dietary shifts, Americans may be at risk of not getting all the vitamin D they need, a nutrient vital to good health.
Commonly referred to as the “Sunshine Vitamin”, vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to UV radiation. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), as little as 10 to 15 minutes of unshielded sun exposure three times a week is enough to produce the body’s requirement of vitamin D. Which means that most of us here in SoCal can pat ourselves on our sun-tanned backs and not worry about it.
That said, the reason Moores is concerned is that, as people get better about protecting their skin from cancer and premature aging with sunscreen, they are also effectively blocking their ability to get vitamin D. If you’ve been a champ about preserving your skin in our Global Warming world, you actually might not be getting all the D you need.
D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, essential to development of healthy bones and teeth. Without it, bones can become thin, brittle or misshapen, causing rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults—it is especially a problem for women in cultures where they expected to keep covered, such as Muslims or Orthodox Jews. According to the Vitamin D Council, current research also indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects and periodontal disease.
Whether or not these links are all verifiable, the calcium absorption connection is clear, and very important. Unfortunately, few foods naturally contain D—fatty fishes do but these aren’t appealing to everyone, and egg yolks have it, but plenty of folks are worried about cholesterol. Dairy is often fortified with D, but people become more lactose intolerant as they age, and fortified cereals usually contain a fractional amount.
So then, when it comes to getting enough D, it might be worthwhile to invest in a supplement. The US Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences recommends a daily multivitamin which contains 400 IU, although dosages can vary depending on age so check with your doctor or a respected health website, such as www.themayoclinic.com. Although it’s difficult to overdo it with D, don’t pop supplements like candy, as D is a fat-soluble vitamin and excessive intake can cause heart rhythm abnormalities, create kidney problems and raise blood levels of calcium, causing mental status changes such as confusion.