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Sunlight is more powerful than people think. Here comes the SUN

Posted by Caribbean World Magazine on 26 November 2021 | 0 Comments

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26 November 2021

So much is written about the potential harmful effects of sunlight, but as a positive health benefit, sunshine really is a force for good 

Sunshine definitely helps us feel more cheery, and positive, and also produces Vitamin D in our skin via direct exposure to sunlight. Our liver and kidneys then convert it into a form we can use, and this Vitamin D is then extremely important for strong bones and teeth, as it helps us absorb the calcium we eat and it also controls the amount of calcium in our blood. 

Our body needs good vitamin D levels as if they fall, our body won’t absorb the calcium we eat. Vitamin D deficiency isn’t easy to spot but if our levels are very low and we are severely deficient, we are at risk of developing weaker bones, a condition known as osteomalacia. Studies show that Vitamin D levels during pregnancy may also impact other aspects of your child’s early development including their social skills and co-ordination. 

In countries like the U.K., where low levels of vitamin D are common, blood tests can show if you are deficient in Vitamin D and, if so, to what extent. And whilst there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for sunlight exposure to help remedy deficiency, the advice is usually to ensure you expose your skin to enough sunlight to increase your Vitamin D levels. Often, in the U.K., this is supplemented with a recommendation to take Vitamin D in tablet, or drop form, until your levels reach normal again.

Lots of other factors affect the amount of vitamin D that's made in the skin, including your skin colour and age, the strength of the sun, the time of day and where you live. The 2016 SACN report suggests that everyone aged 12 months + requires 10mcg of vitamin D per day in order to protect bone and muscle health. In addition, public health officials say that in the winter months people should consider getting this from vitamin D supplements, if their diet is unlikely to provide it.

Of course, we know that too much sun exposure can be damaging due to the risk of developing skin cancer - so a balance clearly needs to be struck. The advice is to spend a small amount of time in the sun without sunscreen either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun is at its weakest. At other times, we should be sure to cover up and avoid any chance of sunburn. Older people are more at risk of deficiency, which is one reason why senior citizens choose to warmer climates. Most report feeling significantly better health-wise the closer they are to the equator. Warm winters, daily sunshine and fewer weather extremes all have positive effect on our levels of Vitamin D. Approximately 60-70% of the UK adult population have insufficient levels of vitamin D in winter and even in spring, when the first signs of sunshine start to appear regularly,16% are considered deficient.

Foods that naturally contain vitamin D include oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, tinned salmon, herring and kippers. Some foods are fortified with small amounts of vitamin D, including breakfast cereals, infant formula and margarine. There are smaller amounts found in eggs and some red meats, such as duck, goose, pheasant and venison however, the exact amount is unknown. Breast milk also contains vitamin D and mums should make sure they aren’t deficient as this will affect the levels in their milk. 

Vitamin D-rich foods

  • Kipper (grilled, 140g) – 14µg vitamin D
  • Herring (grilled, 140g) – 22.5µg vitamin D
  • Mackerel (grilled, 140g) – 11.9µg vitamin D
  • Tinned salmon (140g) – 19µg vitamin D
  • Sardines (grilled, 140g) – 7µg vitamin D
  • Branflakes (fortified, 30g) – 1.4µg vitamin D
  • Hen eggs (poached, 2) – 2.9µg vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is very uncommon in the Afro-Caribbean population, due to the year-round sunny weather and tropical climate that ensures some bright sunshine even during the wetter months.