Walking on sunshine
Increasing levels of the so-called “sunshine vitamin” can drastically reduce a person’s chance of developing metabolic bone disease, deadly cancers, heart disease and a host of other diseases, says a world-renowned medical expert who recently visited Mount Royal.
Dr. Michael Holick, a leading consultant on the health benefits of vitamin D and the director of the Heliotherapy, Light, and Skin Research Center at Boston University Medical Center, believes more awareness is needed about the impact that taking vitamin supplements and spending a little extra time under the sun can have on a person’s quality of life.
“Everybody has recognized vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin. They realize it helps prevent rickets in children but we don’t see rickets anymore so we are not thinking about vitamin D in children,” said Holick, who has studied vitamin D for 30 years.
“Furthermore, adults feel they don’t need vitamin D, that it’s only for children; they have the misconception that if they have a healthy diet they have all the nutrients and they presume vitamin D is there as well. So nobody really worries about vitamin D.”
Hundreds packed the Ross Glen Hall on Feb. 26 for Holick’s speech — Vitamin D for Health: A D-lightful Story — the second in Mount Royal’s Body of Knowledge lecture series.
”Much to the dismay of the dermatology community, I also get support from the sun,” Holick joked to the audience as he displayed a contrast of slides showing the seriousness of vitamin D deficiency and comedic ones showing characters like Homer Simpson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Holick explained that anyone living north of Atlanta, Ga. is unable to make vitamin D in their skin between November and February.
“It’s even worse here in Canada. We did a study up in Edmonton and probably from about mid-September to mid-April you are unable to make any vitamin D in this area,” he said.
Holick explained that the best way to combat this problem is to take vitamin D supplements, which are relatively cheap and can be found at any drug store.
Five important facts about vitamin D
1) Spending just 15-30 minutes in the sun a few days each week during the summer months can significantly increase a person’s vitamin D levels.
2) Few foods are fortified with a significant amount of vitamin D. A serving of milk for example only contains about 100 units.
3) SPF 30 sunscreen reduces the vitamin D created from sunlight by 99 per cent.
4) Obesity reduces the ability to make vitamin D by 55 per cent because it becomes stored in body fat.
5) People with dark skin pigmentation have a much more difficult time creating vitamin D.
“The supplement is excellent and I personally take 2,000 units of vitamin D a day as a supplement and I can tell you that most of my colleagues and their family members are all doing the same thing,” Holick said.
“Vitamin D is very forgiving so if you forget to take it one day, take two the next, if you miss a whole week you can actually take seven at a time and it won’t make any difference.”
Holick said many people assume that taking a multivitamin will provide them with their daily requirement of vitamin D, however each pill only carries about 400 units. He explained that those who do increase their vitamin levels will notice a significant increase in muscle function.
“Your skeletal muscle has vitamin D receptors and it’s well documented now that people — especially in the winter time — feel fatigued, they feel depressed and we’re now finding that many of these symptoms, including aches and pains in their muscles are now associated with vitamin D,” Holick, who has also penned a book on his findings titled The UV Advantage, said.
Jessica Luther, a massage therapy student through Mount Royal’s program at Athabasca University, attended the lecture and felt the information Holick shared was extremely valuable to everyone in attendance.
The 18-year-old explained that she suffers from Crohn’s disease and psoriasis and has previously used vitamin D to help improve her condition.
“It’s pretty crucial to know about vitamin D because it is so beneficial to a wide range of people,” Luther said.
Holick said the audiences at his past presentations have been very receptive to his ideas.
“What I get the most out of this is I will provide information to the audience and they are often physicians so that they’ll not only change their own practice with their patients but they also change their own practice personally.
“I always joke about it but after my talk the physicians will get into their SUVs, drive to the local drug store and buy up all the vitamin D supplements off the shelf.”