We’ve always heard of Vitamin D as the “Sunshine Vitamin” with the S and V in capital letters. But what we are hearing of late makes you feel it truly deserves its place in the sun. The most recent being: that if you don’t have enough Vitamin D in your body, even the vaccine’s efficacy against the Covid virus and its variants is reduced. That is, in a Vitamin D-deficient system, the vaccine won’t generate a strong enough immune response. That makes you sit up, doesn’t it?
Get out more
The question is: why would anyone be Vitamin D-deficient? There could be two reasons: *Reduced outdoor activities. So, if you’re elderly and mostly at home or are a WFH executive, please ensure to take a walk in the sun and get out more often for groceries and medicines instead of having them delivered at your doorstep. Reminder: Wear your mask and walk on the sunny side of the path.
*The pollution in the air reduces the intensity of our exposure to sunlight. You may have noticed that the sunny effect is marred by smog or fog… even if you just stand at your window and gaze at the scenery… the buildings and mountains in the distance are hazy. It’s unnerving, it wasn’t like that some years ago.
That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an estimated one billion people world over have D-deficiency.
We could have D-deficiency if certain symptoms persist. They are: fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, muscle aches and cramps. Exercisers need to be aware of these signs persisting post-
exercise every day, and not dismiss them as ‘exercise-induced aches’ alone.
Another symptom is a continuous low current of anxiety and depression. A 2005 study identified that Vitamin D-receptors exist in the same areas of the brain that are associated with depression. Insufficient levels of this nutrient cause inflammation and as a neuroscientist remarked ruefully, ‘It’s as if the brain is asking “Where has all the sunshine gone?”’
The D-K combo
According to Dr Joseph Campbell, when we don’t get sufficient sunshine, we need 4,000 to 10,000iu (international units) of a Vitamin D supplement. He suggests it should be taken with 200 mcg (micrograms) of Vitamin K2. Research shows that the K-D combination helps the body use calcium the way it should be to build bone and prevents the calcium from being deposited in our arteries and soft tissue and hardening them.
Vitamin D not only strengthens our immune system, it aids our battle against obesity, high blood pressure, colon disease and heart disease. It’s literally a life-saver as higher level of it in our system could protect us from infections and even death.
Vitamin D not only strengthens our immune system, it aids our battle against obesity, high blood pressure, colon disease and heart disease.
There’s yet one more healing factor it provides — almost like a messiah performing a miracle. ‘It is,’ says Dr Campbell, ‘a powerful epigenetic regulator.’ Our genes are what we are born with. And our environment and the way we live are the epigenetic factors. So, explains Dr Campbell, ‘Vitamin D turns on our good genes.’ It influences 2,500 genes, and that is almost 12 per cent of the whole. Updated counts show we have about 21,000 active genes.
It’s very interesting that more and more medical experts are beginning to cognise that human beings and all other species are tropical creatures designed to live in sunshine. Our planet itself is a “sun-planet”, our entire eco-system survives and thrives on sunlight. That’s why it is important to bask, bathe and bloom in the sunny outdoors. During the pandemic, many children developed bow legs. Why? Their little bones did not get sunlight, did not get Vitamin D. When the bones softened, they ‘bowed’ under the weight of the upper body.
Overdosing is impossible
To continue the Sunshine Story, the beautiful, wonder Vitamin D also protects us from cancer, respiratory tract infections, chronic inflammatory diseases, autoimmune disease and multiple sclerosis. And if you get this vitamin from the sun, there is never any danger of overdosing on it. Our beloved D even regulates the innate immune system as well as its adaptive skill. So, when our D3 receptors — the white cells: monocytes and macrophages; members of the immune system: T cells and B cells and the enzyme-endowed Natural Killer cells, as also the Dendritic cells that influence the adaptive skills of our immune system — receive the sun, our body can never produce more than required. Apparently, an unregulated immune system could cause more inflammation if our D didn’t sensibly and efficiently regulate its own production!
Now, the question that pops up is: If I have a Vitamin D deficiency, how long does it take to correct it? Rathish Nair and Arun Maseeh say it ‘can be corrected in four to six weeks by taking 2,000 to 4,000 milligrams daily.’ Of course, it is wise to discuss your dosage first with your doctor. Meanwhile, Dr Deepak Chopra advises us — and no doubt, so will your doctor — to stick with cholecalciferol which is Vitamin D3 rather than ergocalciferol which is Vitamin D2.
Time in the sun
And how much time should we spend in the sun? Anything from 5 to 30 minutes between 7am and 9am or after 5pm in India. This is when the Ultraviolet B rays are strong. After 10am, they tend to be harsh. Applying sunscreen defeats the purpose, that is why the mellow morning sun is recommended. Tips: *Sunning yourself through a glass window is no good. The UVB rays cannot penetrate glass. *Drink enough water so as not to get dehydrated. *If your skin is sensitive, stop before it turns too pink. *If the skin is on the dusky side, expose it for an hour or so, depending on its endurance.
Another natural source of Vitamin D is, of course, our food. Some suggestions:
Mushrooms. They provide us with ergosterol which when exposed to UV light converts to vitamin D. The more exposed they are to sunlight, the richer they are in ergosterol. About 100mg of fresh mushrooms — chanterelle, shitake, oyster, button — contain about 100mcg of Vitamin D.
Preparation: Saute them with garlic and salt. Sprinkle salt and push one peppercorn in each and bake. Sister Deepika grinds them into an excellent thick, nourishing soup with salt and celery and tosses in halved pieces of button mushrooms. They make a delicious accompaniment to tomato sandwiches. Friend Deeds rolls out an awesome spinach roti with mushroom and paneer filling.
Egg yolk. Nutritionists say one ego yolk has 35iu of Vitamin D. They advise buying eggs from free ranging farms where hens roam around in the sun and are not caged.
Preparation: Try the classic egg salad or the pan-fried sunny-side-up favourite. It’s great both in Chinese fried rice and Indian spiced rice. Egg muffins and a bread-egg-apple pudding add variety.
Fish. Favour fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, pomfret. Approximately 3ounces of fatty fish contain 17.9mcg of Vitamin D.
Preparation: Grilled salmon, fish tacos or delicately steamed pomfret with herbs make a great meal. There are the famous Goan and Mangalorean curries in coconut gravy or the renowned Punjabi fried pomfret which tastes better in a Jai Jawan stall than a fancy restaurant.
Cod liver oil. It’s a potent source of Vitamin D. One teaspoon per day provides 113 per cent of the RDA, say nutritionists.
Preparation: It can be just sucked off a teaspoon and chased down with any juice; or mixed in a strongly flavoured smoothie; or blended into a dressing for a salad. The easiest way is to pop a cod liver capsule every morning. Tip: It can even be rubbed into the skin.
What it all ultimately boils down to is: getting the sun into you. The sun is our energy just as ‘The trees are our lungs, the rivers our circulation, the air our breath and the earth our body,’ as said so eloquently by Dr Deepak Chopra. Dear readers, please find your own cheerful spot in the sun. Warm the bones, the brain, the heart. Be one with the rustling leaves, the singing birds, the dancing breeze, the endless sky. Stay strong. Stay healthy. Stay sunny.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.