Sunshine, exercise and a nutrient-rich diet are essential to our overall health. By coordinating diet along with exercise and proper sun exposure we can achieve the best recipe for the healthiest levels of vitamin D, and other essential nutrients needed for our overall health. God has created our body in an amazing way to produce this wonderfully protective nutrient.
Recently, in the ongoing quest to figure out why some people are more susceptible to dying from the novel coronavirus, this article was published by Northwestern University. This compilation of data seems to reinforce what many other studies have shown about Vitamin D levels and our immune systems.
Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, but a “prehormone” produced in our body from a conversion that occurs when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The National Institutes of Health has a fact sheet on Vitamin D. Without adequate vitamin D circulating in our blood, our immune system is not operating as efficiently as it should. Low levels can affect our digestion, our cardiovascular system, our bones and increase our risk for illness and many cancers. We must have adequate vitamin D to absorb calcium, and it has also been shown to be a key factor in prevention of many different types of cancer, including breast cancer. Vit D deficiency has been linked to the onset of diabetes and supplementation with Vitamin D showed an improvement in glycemic control (Hgb A1C) as well as lipid profiles.
Limited sun exposure without sunscreen is essential for our body to synthesize vitamin D correctly. This means that we should shoot for at least 15-30 minutes of exposure daily with as much skin uncovered as possible. This level of exposure has been shown to potentially produce 10,000 – 20,000 IU of Vitamin D. Sunscreen will block the sun’s rays necessary to synthesize the Vitamin D3 in our body, as does glass in a window. UVB rays have the protective effects of producing the synthesis of Vitamin D3 in our blood and counteracting the harmful UVA rays. Recent studies have shown that the best time to get the beneficial UVB rays is between 10am and 3 pm. This can mean a walk around the neighborhood, golf on the golf course, tennis, or enjoying the pool. The key is to not use sunscreen during that limited exposure while we are trying to get that Vitamin D synthesis, but also NOT to allow our skin to burn. To get the necessary synthesis, expose as much skin as possible until it begins to take on a slight pink “warmed” color, but then STOP the exposure by moving to the shade, covering up or using a natural mineral sunscreen to prevent burning. We can increase our exposure time gradually (always preventing burning) and gradually increase our Vitamin D synthesis.
There are many foods that provide naturally occurring compounds, which provide great protection for our skin, as well as many other health benefits. Astaxanthin is the powerful antioxidant that gives wild salmon, lobster and shrimp their red/pink color. It is excellent for skin protection, and the wild salmon is not only a dietary source of Vitamin D, but also provides omega 3 fatty acids, which is also very beneficial for skin protection. Both of these nutrients are also excellent for brain health. Eating 2-3 servings of the wild varieties each week will help us get those nutrients.
Colorful fruits and veggies, especially the red and orange flesh, provide beta carotene (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots and mangoes) and lycopene (tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, blood orange) which are both powerful antioxidants being shown to have protection for our skin. We should try to eat some of these daily.
Polyphenols in tea have been shown in studies to help prevent skin cancer, with the evidence for green tea being stronger. Daily consumption is highly beneficial.
Studies have shown that people with a higher intake of foods containing selenium (Brazil nuts, grass-fed beef) and zinc (grass-fed beef and lamb, shellfish, legumes) have a lower risk of cancer and better functioning immune systems.
Vitamin K (leafy greens) is being shown in studies to help manage some cancers and it is also essential for the synergy of absorbing Vitamin D and calcium for our bone health. Recent research suggests that without adequate vitamin K in our diets, it is much harder for our body to absorb vitamin D and calcium. We should be eating leafy greens at least once a day.
There are not many foods that provide Vitamin D. Wild caught salmon is an excellent source providing about 500 IU in a 4 oz. serving, sardines are a very good source providing about 175 IU in a 3 oz. serving, mushrooms exposed to UV light provide about 350 IU per 1/2 cup, and cows milk is fortified with Vitamin D, providing 50 IU per 4 oz. Many of us may need to supplement with Vitamin D if we are not getting enough and our blood levels are low. To test for our blood level, we want to ask for 25-hydroxy vitamin D to be tested. This is the circulating, converted form of Vitamin D that our body utilizes. Optimal levels are 50-100 ng/ml. Try to increase sun exposure safely, but supplement if necessary, 1,000 – 4,000 per day. It is best to use a supplement that also has K2 for best absorption.
The most important thing to remember for our health is that just like our body is made of many parts, our health is dependent on many things working together and being nourished properly with a large variety of foods. Enjoy a colorful menu each day and enjoy some sunshine!