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If you are an urban dweller, chances are you’re getting less vitamin D daily than those living in a rural idyll, thanks to sun-blocking skyscrapers and high rises and increased levels of pollution. And with corona pandemic, and people encouraged to stay indoors, it is getting worse. With vitamin D having a myriad of benefits to our bodies, here are some little known facts about this vitamin as MILLIAM MURIGI explores.
1. It’s the only vitamin you can make from sun
Vitamin D is made in your skin when you are exposed to Ultraviolet B (UVB)light at a specific wavelength.
The UVB rays interact with a precursor in your skin, 7-dehydrocholesterol, turning it into vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is transported to different places in the body where it gets “activated,” meaning it’s ready for use by the body.
Also known as sunshine vitamin, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is vital for forming and maintaining strong bones and teeth.
Research has also shown that vitamin D acts similarly to a hormone in the body, and may play a role in regulating blood pressure, weight and mood.
One recent study even suggests that having adequate levels can protect against early fatalities from conditions like cancer and heart disease.
2. It’s a hormone
Vitamin D is unique in that it’s not used in the body like most vitamins. It’s actually better classified as a hormone.
Its primary role in the body is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, but it has far-reaching effects across body systems, from bones, cardiovascular, endocrine, neural function, immune health, and a whole lot more.
Vitamin D is so crucial that it actually regulates the activity of over 200 genes, which much folds more than any other vitamin.
3. A little fat helps vitamin D to function
If you’ve ever felt guilty about blobbing butter on a holier than thou plate of vegetables, stop right there.
The days of plain broccoli and the like are numbered, as they’re neither tasty, nor as it turns out, actually optimally nutritious.
To increase your sense of satisfaction and fullness, you can always slather your vegetables in extra virgin olive oil or even some butter.
Adding oil is also important for the resorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Also, adding some pine nuts or flaked almonds will greatly enhance many vegetables.”
4. Vitamin D could help your kids’ muscles
The conversation around children and vitamin D normally revolves around the avoidance of rickets.
And while that’s a crucial priority, other benefits of high vitamin D uptake for kids aren’t so widely discussed.
But recent research linked high levels of maternal vitamin D to better muscle development in children.
The study involving 678 children correlated vitamin D levels in the womb with grip strength at the age of four, finding that high levels of vitamin D in late pregnancy meant that children were more likely to have greater muscle strength in their hands at the age of four.
Strong muscle fibres at this age could result in more muscle mass and fewer falls and fractures into adulthood and later life.
5. Skin tone affects its production
People with dark skin have higher concentrations of the skin pigment, melanin, which blocks the sun’s UVB rays.
That means it takes more sun exposure for you to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D if you are dark-skinned.
In fact, people with dark skin may require three to six more time in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as a very pale person.
6. Sunscreen blocks 95 per cent of vitamin D production
It is a common thing for people to wear sunscreen when stepping out during sunny days. But, do you know that wearing sunscreen or covering up with protective clothing, makes you not make much vitamin D?
Sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 30 pretty effectively blocks UVB rays, reducing vitamin D production by 95 per cent.
Obviously, sunburns are harmful, so if you have pale skin or burn easily, it’s ideal to get a little sun exposure on bare skin and then lather or cover up for the remainder of your time outside or simply avoid long periods of time in the sun).
7. You make most of it at midday
You might have heard that you should avoid mid-day sun exposure since that’s when the sun emits more damaging rays. However, those “damaging” rays are the ones that your skin uses to make vitamin D.
UVB rays are at their peak between roughly 10am to 2pm, so if you’ve been taking an early morning walk to get your vitamin D, you might want to spend some additional time outdoors up to mid-day.
9. It may ward off vision damage
The main reason our vision starts to slip after 50 is because of what’s called age-related macular degeneration, a slow-progressing blurriness that starts near the centre of the eye and impedes our ability to see clearly straight ahead.
However, a recent study suggests maintaining optimal vitamin D levels can also help, even if the genetic cards are stacked against you.
10. You can have too much vitamin D...
Taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause more calcium to be absorbed than can be excreted. The excess calcium can be deposited in and damage the kidneys.
Excessive intake of vitamin D can also encourage calcium to be removed from bones, which can soften and weaken them. As always, moderation wins out.