Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cosmic energy and the importance of Vitamin D

When it comes to improving my mood and sense of wellbeing, nothing works quite so easily as spending some time outdoors, soaking up a spot of cosmic energy in the form of sunshine. Either walking around the Barham Lake, digging in the vegetable garden, kayaking down the river or just sitting outside on my deckchair eating lunch, I find time outside is time well spent.

Last weekend’s beautiful weather along with our annual Barham Koondrook Show on Friday evening and all day Saturday and the monthly Koondrook Barham Farmers Market on the bank of the Murray River Sunday morning, proved a magnificent combination and a good excuse to get out into the fresh air.

After decades of being warned how bad the sun was for us and how we must “slip, slop, slap” we are now being warned of the dangers of vitamin D deficiency, of covering up too much and wearing excessive amounts sunscreen.

Vitamin D combined with calcium and exercise is essential for strong healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Calcium cannot be fully absorbed by the body without vitamin D. With many Australians these days spending more time inside than out, our overall levels of vitamin D have fallen to such a degree that a Deakin University study involving 11,000 people from around Australia, indicated nearly one third of the population may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

Bone and muscle pain, weak bones (osteoporosis), and a compromised immune system leading to an increased risk of some cancers, heart disease, type two diabetes, infections and depression are all possible outcomes of vitamin D deficiency. Not good news for our aging population residing inside nursing homes, the large percentage of the workforce who spend their entire working day indoors or our computer and electrical gadget addicted children (playing an Xbox will not increase your vitamin D levels…)

Vitamin D is found in small quantities in a few foods (eg fatty fish - salmon, herring, mackerel, liver, eggs, fortified foods). However adequate vitamin D levels are unlikely to be achieved through diet alone.

Luckily, for most of us it is relatively easy to obtain an ample amount of vitamin D by exposing our skin to sunlight while maintaining a sensible balance between sun exposure and protection against skin cancer. We just need to make it a regular habit.

During summer months when the UV radiation is highest, a mere five to ten minutes a day of sunshine on our bare un-sunscreened arms, hands and face (around 15% of our body’s surface), is enough. When UV radiation is lower during the winter months you need longer in the sun (as do people with darker skins) but even then, a quick ten to fifteen minutes each day or thirty minutes three times a week, will stand you in good stead.

Daily outdoor exercise (as well as my personal favourite: al fresco dining) can assist with the body’s production of vitamin D… bring on summer and the backyard barbeque I say.

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