Vitamin D - how to get enough of this feel-good vitamin
How many of us are familiar with that feeling of gloom as we trudge through winter – and conversely, the joy we feel on those first warm, sunny days of spring? This is not down to our weather preferences - it is the body's way of responding to its levels of vitamin D.
With our beautiful clean skies and abundance of fresh produce, it is hard to believe that we are one of the most at risk countries for vitamin D deficiency. In fact, we are so unaware of this deficiency that most of us never get around to finding out what our vitamin D levels really are - and for those that are aware of the risk, it can be a hassle to get checked. Vitamin D testing is not free or subsidised; we have to request a test from the doctor and then fit in time to go and actually get the test. If we did all get checked, we might be astounded at just how low we are in this important vitamin – even more so if we really understood just how much vitamin D affects the wellbeing of ourselves and our children. As well as lifting the mood, there are a raft of other benefits that come from receiving good levels of Vitamin D. It is essential for calcium absorption for strong teeth and bones, it strengthens immunity and it helps the body fight many diseases, influenza and even inhibits cancer cell growth.
So how do we get more of this get this super vitamin?
Sun exposure is the best way for our bodies to absorb vitamin D, and it is for this reason that we struggle to get our quota. We are at a disadvantage for a large part of the year because during winter and some of autumn and spring, our country is positioned at an angle that doesn’t allow the suns rays to reach us very well. In fact, even in the height of summer we are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency due to our fear of the sun. In New Zealand, the summer sun is so strong that we are rightly encouraged to cover up and keep out of it, but the flip side of this is that vitamin D cannot penetrate through sunscreen, fabric or shade so we still miss out on those feel good endorphins.
In her new book, Children’s health: A – Z for New Zealand parents, Dr Leila Masson recommends that adults and children get plenty of time in the sunshine with as much skin exposed as possible. In summer, we recommend only doing this in the morning and late afternoon and ten minutes of unprotected sun exposure should be enough to load up on vitamin D before you put sunscreen on. During the middle of the day children should always wear sunscreen, light fabrics and a sunhat if they have to be in the sun. Dr Masson also recommends supplements as an effective way of topping up vitamin D levels if you cannot get into the sun and she talks about these further in her book. Breastfed babies rely on you for vitamin D so make sure you are getting adequate amounts.
Dr Leila Masson MD, MPH, FRACP is a paediatrician with a Master of Public Health from Harvard and extensive training in nutrition and environmental health. She is interested in disease prevention through healthy nutrition and lifestyle. Dr Masson aims to treat the whole child and to support families on their path to better health. She is also on the professional advisory group for La Leche League NZ.