Thursday, 4 April 2013

So what’s up Doc?

So many people I speak to at the moment seem to be depressed, tired and experiencing different minor ailments (including myself) and personally I think with the prolonged wintery conditions the lack of sunlight are making us all SAD! It’s amazing how just one sunny day lifts all our spirits and the feeling of wellbeing.

“Such a feel good factor looking up at the sky with that lovely fiery ball of warmth amongst the clouds that makes any day feel so much better.”

Our human body was designed to be exposed to sunlight on a frequent basis. We evolved, after all, under the natural sun so being deprived of it can be problem.   

“I’m coming out of the shadows; I'm coming into the light. I'm stepping out in the sunshine, cos it’s the end of the night.” Calvin Harris quotes 

Now I know that SAD is a serious condition for those who suffer from it, and I don’t want to belittle it here and Seasonal Affective Disorder can be applied inaccurately to the normal shift to lower energy levels in winter- but with the late spring this year and lack of sunlight it can make us all sleep too much, have little energy and feelings of being just down and unwell - and the answer to this is may well be that we are becoming vitamin D deficient.

“A cloudy day or a little sunshine has as great an influence on many constitutions as the most recent blessings or misfortunes.” Joseph Addison

Did you know that studies have shown that between 60% and 90% of people with SAD are women? It’s true. If you are a female between 15 and 55, you are more likely to develop SAD – as if we don't have enough to contend with!

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” Luther Burbank

People who are at a higher risk of  being vitamin D deficient include pregnant and breastfeeding women, young children, older people, darker-skinned people, those who wear whole-body coverings, those living in institutions, skin cancer patients and those of us who avoid the sun – so that includes my teenager then!

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.”  ~John Denver

The jury however is out on precisely how vitamin D deficiency can affect us but it has been attributed to:  

  • Lowered immunity and being more susceptible to colds, skin infection, staph infections and respiratory tract infection
  •  Tooth loss, oral infections and gum disease
  •  Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and increase of appetite
  •   Joint pain, low back pain, knee pain
  •  Sleep problems depression, low energy and forgetfulness
  •   Insulin resistance

It has also been suggested that low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of certain cancers and (according to reports on the NHS website) although this has been proven true with regard to bowel cancer, the evidence is limited for breast cancer, non-existent for prostate cancer and too sparse for other cancer types to draw firm conclusions. But sunshine does raise our spirits of well being and I don't know about you but I notice people smile more, it encourages us to be out of doors breathing in the fresh air, exercising and may make us think of eating a better diet – and all  this is healthy in itself.  It a gloomy day today, cold and a fluttering of snow and all I want to do is stay indoors and hibernate!

“Anyone's life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit.” Lillie Langtry

Five forms of vitamin D has been discovered, vitamin D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5. The two forms that seem to matter most to humans are D2 and D3.  If you do have the symptoms above, or even a mix of them, it may be worth asking your doctor for a blood test to check your Vitamin D levels and rather than being prescribed high-profit prescription drugs that merely mask symptoms and do not address the underlying causes of being deficient in Vitamin D. Note: I am not medically trained but the research that is being done on vitamin D and the implications of being deficient is growing every day and of course there are also free and alternative treatments available that can raise your Vitamin D intake.

“Where there is sunshine the doctor starves.”  ~Flemish Proverb

Firstly Vitamin D is not absorbed – our bodies make it. From springtime onwards it is recommended that about 15 to 30 minutes on your arms and legs two to three times a week is enough to raise your vitamin D and wellbeing levels (noting that complete cloud cover halves the energy of ultraviolet rays and in the shade reducing it by 60 percent).  Of course exposing yourself to sunshine has its own risk and it is impractical to offer a one-size-fits-all recommendation for the amount of sun exposure that we all need to make sufficient vitamin D, but regularly going outside for a matter of minutes around the middle of the day without sunscreen should be enough with sun exposure being little and often. The more the skin is exposed the greater the chance of us making sufficient vitamin D before burning.

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, and drink the wild air.”

Amazingly, if we achieve a sufficient supply of vitamin D in the summer, for most of us that is enough to last until the spring.  But looking out of my window despite being spring it’s very cold and snowing and it doesn't look as if the sun is coming out any day soon either! During winter months (particularly in the UK) there is not enough UVB for vitamin D synthesis and we rely on the Vitamin D that is stored in our tissue from the spring and summer months.  The only thing I can say right now is if the sun does come out it would be good if you had the opportunity to go out and soak up some of those rays whenever you can!

“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.” Anne Bronte

Vitamin D also is found in oily fish (including salmon, trout and sardines) and eggs being the main natural sources, but also liver, meat, fortified milk and cod liver oil, fortified foods such as orange juice with calcium and vitamin D, margarine and other fat spreads, breakfast cereals and curiously mushrooms.   

“A morning without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”

Vitamin D supplements can also be taken, although it is advised not to take more than 25 micrograms a day, as intakes from supplements above this amount could be harmful.  The Government recommended dose is that people at risk of low sun exposure should take a 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D a day (7 micrograms a day for children aged 6 months to 5 years)

“When my heart is heavy, the sun helps make it light.” ~Terri Guillemets

The next best thing to natural sunlight is high-intensity, full-spectrum lighting, which is available from various light boxes and seasonal affective disorder treatment devices. These are essentially very bright lights that radiate some of the same frequencies as the natural sun directly onto your skin (and into your eyes) which has a similar effect for storing Vitamin D.  Using light therapy has shown to be effective but must be used for a certain amount of time daily, continuing throughout the dark winter months.  You may experience some mild side effects, such as headaches, eyestrain, or nausea but light therapy users say that the side effects are temporary and subside with time. The best time for light therapy is in the early morning. (If used late at night, it could cause insomnia) and you should have your eyes open and face the light during therapy (not staring at the light directly but simply face the light, eyes open.)

“Some days you just have to create your own sunshine.”

Some of you may think that sunbeds are a good source of a Vitamin D top up and although any exposure to UVB radiation can increase vitamin D levels as sunbed use is accompanied by a high frequency of sunburns linked to a higher risk of melanoma - using sunbeds is probably not such a good idea.

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. John Ruskin”

Finally, whatever your thoughts right now – I just wish that Sun would just make an appearance and shine on us all, particularly in the UK - I am sure we would all be much happier, lighter in spirit and begin to feel much healthier (although being the fickle people we are am sure then we will have different problems to contend with– sunburn, moans that it’s too hot, water hose ban and the longing of rain!) but remember instead of staying stuck in doors on your computers or for other reasons if you are able try to just get a few minutes of the rays of sunshine each day. I have to be careful in the sun for two reasons; one because I have a slight allergy to the sun ever since I became diabetic so on extra sunny days I take an allergy tablet before going on a day out and secondly because of the radiation treatment undertaken last year and do not want to get sunburn. Also for me it may mean that I will have to chuck my teenager out of the house on the sunny days to ensure that he gets his quota of sunshine and Vitamin D as well for the year – don't expect that to be easy!

“When the sun begins to shine
at the blessed springtime
From the winter days of gloom
Its healthy growing rays
As each flower begins to bloom
Happiness levels raised
Well-being refreshed anew
Welcoming smiles of how do you do?
And please stay a little while
At least to the afternoon
Letting us reconcile
Whistle to another tune”
                                               (Belinda Federl)

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