It’s Not What You Might Think.
Each day brings us one day closer to December 21, 2012; the day that doomsday forecasters and the Mayans believe the world will come to an end. The prediction that the world will end on 12/21/12 is a hoax. But, December 21 is when the winter solstice occurs. If you live on the North Pole you will experience a full day of darkness; the South Pole will be lit up for 24 hours.
Where I live the sun will rise at 7:14 a.m. and set at 4:35 p.m. December 21 is the shortest day of the year, and if that day is overcast I might as well be at the North Pole. My body will have zero opportunity to produce Vitamin D on its own on that day and for many, many days thereafter. It’s not of apocalyptic magnitude, but the impact that a shortage of the sunshine vitamin can have on my physical and mental health is worth paying attention to.
Vitamin D Is Critical To Physical Health
Vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins and is essential for optimal health. It is absent from all natural foods except fish and egg yolks, which makes it difficult to get enough Vitamin D from diet alone. Even when we consume foods that are ‘fortified’ with Vitamin D, our body has to transform it so that it can be used.
Your body makes its own Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. The sun’s energy turns a chemical in your skin into Vitamin D. It then travels to your liver and kidneys where it becomes active. Having sufficient amounts of Vitamin D are important for a number of reasons; the primary one being bone health. Vitamin D keeps the bones strong by increasing the intestinal absorption of calcium.
Recent studies done on vitamin D suggest that there are other reasons to make sure your levels are up to par which include a reduced risk for several diseases: cardiovascular disease, prostate, breast, and colon cancers, diabetes, muscle and bone pain, multiple sclerosis, and hypertension.
In an interview with Web MD, Susan Sullivan, DSc, RD, assistant professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine, said, “there is striking evidence that as you go farther north, the incidence of certain cancers increases.” The statistics are similar for multiple sclerosis which is more prevalent in Canada and northern states of the U.S. than it is in southern states.
Michael F. Holick, PhD, M.D., who heads the Vitamin D Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine says, “Activated vitamin D is one of the most potent inhibitors of cancer cell growth. It also stimulates your pancreas to make insulin and regulates your immune system.”
A series of recent studies have concluded that vitamin D is effective in reducing blood pressure and the risk of falling in the elderly, and aids in the prevention of multiple sclerosis in women.
Vitamin D Is Critical To Mental Health
Vitamin D also plays a significant role in our mental health. Not having enough is a mood buster. Too little can affect our ability to concentrate and jeopardize our motivation.
A study on 10,646 employees of a Midwestern-integrated health care system showed that low levels of vitamin D were reducing worker productivity and increasing instances of presenteeism. Study results concluded that “employee vitamin D assessment and replenishment may represent a low-cost, high-return program to mitigate risk factors and health conditions that drive total employee health care costs.”
If you l live in an area where you don’t have an opportunity to experience at least 20 minutes of natural sunlight on your skin each day there’s a good chance you are vitamin D deficient. A study at the University of Maine monitored vitamin D levels in 23 girls ranging from the ages of 10 to 13. Despite being seemingly healthy adolescents, nearly half of these girls had insufficient levels of vitamin D in their blood in March; the time of the year when levels are depleted due to lack of exposure to sunlight over the winter.
Other studies indicate that depression, along with a lag in energy and motivation, and a feeling of general malaise – also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – are attributed to sunlight deprivation.
Ask The Doc
What does this mean for people that live where days are short, nights are long, and the sky is overcast more often than not?
Doctors aren’t oblivious to the recent research that suggests that many of their patients suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. They are testing patient’s vitamin D levels on a more routine basis. You can call your doctor’s office and ask to have yours checked and they will be happy to accommodate you and prescribe a supplement – if needed – in a dosage that’s appropriate for you. It’s the best way find out if you need a supplement and, if you do, just how much.
Another option is light therapy which is used to treat SAD. Flooding your environment for at least 30 minutes a day with artificial sunlight has been proven to reduce the symptoms associated with SAD that include loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety. Light therapy is also useful in treating depression and sleep disorders. You can find everything from dawn simulators, to light boxes and lamps at Full Spectrum Solutions.
Lose Your Winter Funk
Scientists are 100% certain the earth won’t be knocked out of the sky by a planet or meteor on Friday. Life will go on as usual which means you could spend the entire winter in a funk. If a lack of sunlight is keeping you from doing all of the things you enjoy, squelching your motivation to exercise, and causing you to overeat and oversleep, you’ve got a problem. Seeking a solution and finding out which treatment options are for you will help you make it to spring healthy and happy.
Over To You
Do you suffer from SAD, use light therapy or supplement with Vitamin D? I would love you hear your experiences in the comment box below.
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