Sunscreen lotions, umbrellas, films on car windows – anything to block the sun. Anything for a fair skin. Is it that we do not need the sun? Isn’t sun protection over done up with? Well, so much for sunblocks!
But reality is much different from what is being touted as the current fad. We do need sunshine and in good measure. And the sunshine vitamin – Vitamin D – is at the helm of health – the body manufactures it only when exposed to sunlight. But how much of sunshine is good enough for a satisfactory amount of Vitamin D in the body? “One hour of uninterrupted morning sun preferably between 11.00 am and 3.00 pm with ten percent body exposed for us Indians with brown skin is a good enough amount”, says Neeru Gera, senior consultant, endocrinology, Max Hospital, New Delhi, “It gives 1000 units of Vitamin D which is required for the body each day”.
The absorption of Vitamin D through sun becomes difficult for the dark skinned. The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make Vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. And so they need to be even more careful to get adequate sunlight exposure than the fair skinned people for who “a whole body exposure for about 20 minutes suffices”.
Then, would a diet rich in Vitamin D help or dietary supplements if not the sun? “In India, especially, there are hardly any good dietary supplements. There is no government policy to fortify food items with Vitamin D. In countries abroad, milk and grains are often fortified with the vitamin”, states Gera. “It is only sunlight that is the best source of Vitamin D for us”, she says, “And Vit. D3 supplements must always be taken as per a doctor’s recommendation”.
In women, the vitamin protects against certain types of cancers and is effective in preventing osteoporosis since it aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the food in the body. It is an effective tool for the body’s immune system as well. Low Vitamin D levels also result in depression; common among women and often never thought of as being the result of not getting enough sunshine into our system. “A deficiency of the vitamin leads to reduced bone and muscle health leading to low bone mass. But along with sunlight, adequate calcium levels are a must too. Only then will the vitamin function properly”, explains Gera.
As for food, the required amounts cannot be fulfilled. Vegetarians need to be on the guard as well. The best way to get adequate amount of the vitamin is only sunlight in their case. However, non-vegetarians can still think of including certain Vitamin D rich foods in their diet – catfish, fish oil, cod liver oil, mollusks, salmon, sardines in oil, mackerel – are all good sources.
Researchers are also finding a potent anti-cancer agent in this sunshine vitamin and that skin cancer may actually be prevented by what is being thought as its cause – sunshine exposure. Of course, the amount of sun one needs to meet the daily Vitamin D requirement depends on factors other than the colour of the skin too – location, time of the year, time of the day, and atmospheric conditions, apart from one’s age and related health requirement.
In India, specifically, where we get ample sunshine all year round, unlike many other countries across the world, we need to take advantage of this great positive to retain good health. Even the weather in our country is conducive for the body. While in the West, people wait for the sun for days at length; all we need to do is take a walk or just sit and relax in the sun for a recommended time to fulfill the need of this very essential body vitamin. And so, for a radiant skin, and healthy teeth, and an overall well-being, it is sunshine all the way.