This week marked the official start of summer here in the southern hemisphere. Signalled by longer daylight hours and more time outside this is a time of year that’s crucial to our health all year long. But how so?
It’s common knowledge that we absorb vitamin D from the sun through our skin, but few people realise that this can only happen in summer, during the hours of 10am and 3pm. This is because UVB, sun rays that penetrate the atmosphere and into our skin’s thickest layer, are only effective when the sun is at its highest strength.
But with exposure to sunlight also comes increased risks of melanoma and heatstroke. According to Melanoma New Zealand, NZ has the highest rate of melanoma per capita than anywhere in the world. 4,000 people in NZ are diagnosed with some form of melanoma every year and 300 people will die from this type of cancer each year.
So how do we ensure we are getting enough vitamin D, while avoiding the negative effects of too much sun exposure?
84% of New Zealanders’ are deficient in this essential vitamin. Our bodies need 80nmol of vitamin D, the minimum level established for health. Vitamin D controls the DNA of your cells, it helps control belly fat through the role of insulin, it plays a key role in the production of pancreatic enzymes and it controls the level of calcium in the blood and bone. In one study at Creighton University they found vitamin D, when combined with calcium, reduces cancer risk by 77%.
Vitamin D is also thought to help with mood and depression, particularly during winter when a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder - a type of depression, or depression-like symptoms - occurs in some individuals due to the change in seasons. Symptoms such as low mood, energy, increased fatigue and motivation and brain fog begin around the same time each year in the lead up to winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) differs from depression as symptoms only persist when there is less light. People who suffer from SAD experience normal mental health during other seasons. In extreme cases symptoms include nausea, inability to get out of bed each morning, migraines and withdrawal from friends and family.
Figures in New Zealand for SAD are hard to come by, but in the U.S it is expected over 6% of the population experience some degree of SAD. In Arctic regions, where differences in sunlight between summer and winter are more marked - this figure jumps to nearly 15%.
There are several theories about the cause of SAD. The first theory is about insufficient vitamin D levels. A double blind trial in 2008 found that; “It appears to be a relation between serum levels of 25(OH)D and symptoms of depression. Supplementation with high doses of vitamin D seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.”
The best time to get outside and soak up the vitamin D is between 10am and 3pm. However, your body can’t make vitamin D if you’re wearing sunscreen, so 20 minutes of sun exposure should be the maximum you aim for (depending on your skin type, less if you’re fairer), as it’s important not to burn your skin.
To get your daily dose of vitamin D it takes about half the time it takes to get burnt. So, we recommend before applying sunscreen each day during summer get outside for 15-20 minutes with your face, arms and neck exposed. Once you have done this, continue to practise sun safety;
We use Soleo Organics sunscreen because it is organic, paraben-free and made using naturopathic principles without preservatives, chemical UV absorbers or titanium dioxide. Because our skin is our largest organ and everything we apply to it can directly enter our bloodstream, it’s important to use as many chemical free and natural personal care products as possible.
You can read more about why reducing the toxins in your environment and products is important for your hormones here.
On a final note, we can also get vitamin D from our diet. Being a fat-soluble vitamin it’s mostly found in animal fats, and because most of New Zealand has been on a low fat diet for the last 30 years, it’s easy to see why 84% of New Zealanders’ are deficient in this essential vitamin.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so increasing your intake of food like:
A recent study at Harvard University also found other factors such as a person’s weight, age, skin colour, exposure to air pollution, location, use of sunscreen and having adequate levels of calcium could all affect their vitamin D status. If you are at risk because of any of these factors, taking extra care to supplement your diet and lifestyle with vitamin D could be crucial.
With a good quality vitamin D supplement, you want to make sure you are getting D3, as this is the most biologically active form of vitamin D. If you’re taking our Everyday Health Pack you’ll be getting a very good maintenance level. The recommended daily dosage of BePure One and BePure Three provides 1600IU of vitamin D.
We are giving away a FREE bottle of Soleo Organic sunscreen with every new purchase of the Everyday Health Pack during December so you can enjoy the sun safely, while still supporting your health with good levels of vitamin D.
Happy summer everyone!
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