Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting Enough of the Sunshine Vitamin When Daylight Savings Time Ends

I don’t know about you, but my summer really ends when we move the clocks ahead (spring back, fall forward) and lose any daylight left in our evenings. In this last week of Daylight Savings Time, I have been rushing home from work to squeeze in a final walk or chore before it gets too dark. Dinner has just had to wait - I’m not sure how happy my family is about this but we all know that it will end soon. Darker evenings and shorter days mean that we have less time in the sunlight. Even those who have daylight hours to enjoy outside may be deterred by cold weather. All this can lead to lower absorption of sunlight on our skin, leading to Vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D is often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin” because about 10-15 minutes of exposure to the sunlight on a person’s face, hands and arms daily (without sunscreen) can be sufficient to meet our needs. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, which is why it is added to milk. All cow’s milk is fortified with Vitamin D– whole, low-fat or skim. Vitamin D deficiency in children leads to poor bone formation (rickets) and to weak bones (osteomalacia) in older adults. Present recommendations for Vitamin D intake for children and adults up to age 50 are 200 International Units (IU) per day. Older adults lose some of their ability to turn sunlight into its active form so 400 IUs are recommended for those 50 – 70 years old and 600 IU for adults older. Some researchers would like to see the recommendation increase up to 2,000 IUs, especially for older adults and other high risk populations. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is retained in our fat cells for weeks. Naturally, it is found in foods containing fat, especially fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines. It can also be found in fortified foods such as orange juice, cereals and margarine and multivitamins. Some proponents of fish oil supplements such as cod liver oil have suggested that this may be another way to increase Vitamin D intake in the winter. A note of caution, however, as too much Vitamin D is toxic. No tolerable upper limit has been established but “more is better” is not a good motto with Vitamin D supplements. Nature’s answer to too much sunlight is usually a bad case of sunburn! As winter approaches, try to get outside during the day – with your children, friends and older adults. I’ll just tell my boss that I need a walk at lunch to get my Vitamin D for the day! Contact your local Penn State Cooperative Extension office for flyers about Vitamin D

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