Flu mania is in full swing! It seems that everyone I talk to these days is worried about the seasonal flu and 2009 H1n1. That's why I'm digressing from our usual foodie fodder to talk about something that can help all of us stay healthy not only during the flu season, but year-round as well: vitamin D.
Vitamin D, as you probably know, is made by our bodies, but requires sunshine. Over the past year or so, I've read a lot about the importance of this vitamin. So, at my routine physical last summer, it was at the top of my list to add vitamin D testing to my customary labwork. (I was pleased when my doctor said that, in light of recent research, she encourages vitamin D testing for all her patients).
Well, it turns out I was "borderline" deficient. This, even though there is vitamin D in my multi vitamin as well as my calcium supplements, and I'd been spending quite a bit of time in the sun. Was I ever surprised! (My first thought: Imagine how deficient I must be in the dead of winter!) My doctor recommended that I supplement with 400 IU of D3 per day, and I plan to increase to 1000 IU during the winter.
A dear friend of mine was tested recently, and her vitamin D levels were almost nonexistent!
So, why is Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin," so important? And why don't we get enough, and what's the best way to get it? Well, research shows vitamin D strengthens your immune system, protects from some cancers, lowers blood pressure, and leads to clearer skin and a healthier brain, just for starters. But getting it can be tricky. Sunshine is the best way, but we spend a lot less time in the sun than we used to, and when we do go out we slather ourselves with sunscreen which blocks the UV rays that create Vitamin D. And even though there's Vitamin D in fish, fortified diary and eggs, you can't get enough from food alone.
Is it any wonder that flu season hits as the weather cools and we head indoors??? Our vitamin D levels nosedive, which in turn weakens our immune systems....and BAM!!!! Colds, flus, you name it!
Kids, too, frequently suffer from low vitamin D levels. A recent study of more than 6,000 children across the U.S. showed that 70% (WOW!!!!) had low levels of vitamin D. This puts them at risk for bone problems, higher blood pressure and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. This and more essential information can be found in the excellent article, "Why You Need the Sunshine Vitamin," from Parade Magazine's September 2009 issue, written by Dr. Mark Liponis. Check it out at http://www.parade.com/health/2009/09/20-why-you-need-vitamin-d.html#
I like Dr. Liponis' common sense approach. Here are a few of his recommendations:
- Get your vitamin D from a combination of food, sunshine, and supplements.
- spend less time indoors and more time outdoors
- When you're out in direct sunshine, use sunblock. Always try to avoid getting a sunburn, children especially, but it's okay to get 10 to 15 minutes of sun daily before you apply sunblock. (I believe Dr. Mercola recommends 20 minutes without sunblock, but don't quote me on that one, folks.)
- Take a daily supplement of vitamin D3 - around 1000 IU per day - depending on your needs
- Get your blood level of vitamin D. checked at your next physical. It should be between 30ng/ml and 100ng/ml
If you thirst for even more vitamin D knowledge, there's a PLETHORA of information on Dr. Mercola's Web site (http://www.mercola.com/). He says, "there is already abundant evidence showing that your vitamin D levels play a role in your likelihood of getting the flu."
And, it never hurts to think sunny thoughts!!