Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Get some 'Sunshine Vitamin'!

Covering up in the sun to protect against skin cancer could harm our health in other ways, say experts. Here’s how to get it right. For years we’ve had it drummed into us that we need to cover up and slap on the high SPF sunscreen in hot, sunny weather. But experts fear some people are taking it too far.

While it’s vital to protect your skin from damage, including skin cancer, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) revealed that vitamin D deficiency is rising. People are getting far too little sun exposure, which the body needs to produce vitamin D, according to the study led by Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Time Cheetham.

It seems that years of sun-safety warnings have made us so terrified of skin cancer, we’re overcompensating by covering up too much – or staying out of the sun altogether. But this can cause bone problems – in extreme cases rickets and osteoporosis – depression and even weight gain.

That’s not to say we should ditch the sun cream.Whether you’re fair skinned or have olive skin that never burns, you should always wear at least factor 20 when you’re in the sun for longer than an hour, and never allow skin to burn.

However, it’s important to remember that small doses of unprotected sun exposure are vital. Experts say we need about 20 minutes a day to help bodies produce enough vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin”. Here’s why you should get enough sun...

It strengthens teeth and bones
One of the main reasons vitamin D deficiency causes diseases like rickets and the brittle bones in osteoporosis is because it helps to regulate the amount of calcium in the body, vital for keeping teeth and bones strong. A lack of vitamin D often results in a lack of calcium, no matter how much milk or yogurt you have.

It reduces your risk of cancer
People with optimum levels of vitamin D have a 40% lower risk of getting cancer compared to people with very low levels, according to a study in the BMJ. That’s particularly breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers.

It helps you lose weight
Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with obesity, say researchers at the University of Minnesota. “Our results suggest the possibility of the addition of vitamin D to a reduced-calorie diet will lead to better weight loss,” says Shalamar Sibley, who led the study.

It found people starting a weight-loss diet have better results if they include plenty of vitamin D in their diet and get a bit of sunshine. Just remember: keep sun exposure safe by making sure it’s in small doses and not in the hottest part of the day.

It lifts mood
As the sun gets brighter and the days longer, our mood lifts. That’s because there’s a link between vitamin D from the sun and feel-good hormones in the body. This explains seasonal affective disorder and why gloominess often hits in dark and cold months.

Here's how to get what you need

Get a little sun
Make sure you step outside for 10 to 20 minutes every single day. Staying cooped up indoors is depressing for a reason – you get absolutely no vitamin D, which lowers the number of feel-good hormones in your body and brain.
If you’re worried about over-exposure, wear a hat and keep your shoulders covered.

Tweak your diet
Vitamin D is mainly found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, dairy products and breakfast cereals. It can also be found in fortified margarines, liver and cod liver oil. Try to include these foods in your diet, but if you’re struggling, then try a supplement.

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