We need more sun in Nova Scotia
Thursday November 23rd 2006, 7:40 pm

We know that in order to stay healthy and avoid diseases as we get older, we must eat properly to get enough vitamins and minerals. Information on what we should be eating regularly is available in the Canada Food Guide. If more people followed it, cases of some cancers and heart disease would be considerably lower. There is one vitamin which is very important to good health but is very hard to get enough of from eating a balanced diet.

We can get vitamin D from fortified milk and orange juice and fish oil, butter and egg yolks but the main source is from sunlight. Regular exposure to the sun causes our body to produce enough vitamin D for good health. The problem is that doctors have been encouraging us to use sun screen and sun block when in the sun, to avoid skin cancer. Research has found that about 10 minutes a few times a week with exposed arms and legs is enough for us to produce enough vitamin D. This message should be publicized as much as the message about sun screen or we will have a generation of children with vitamin D deficiencies and health problems. We aren’t getting enough exposure to sunlight, even during the summer. In fact, vitamin D deficiency can cause skin cancer. The idea is to get some but not too much sun.

Vitamin D is very important for maintaining good bones. It protects us against many bone diseases, many types of cancer, muscle weakness, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. It normalizes blood pressure, reduces pre-cancerous colon polps, gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The recommended dose for people up to age 50 is 200 IU daily, over age 50 is 400 IU and over age 70 is 600 IU daily. Research has shown that giving elderly women 800 IU of vitamin D daily and 1,200 mg. of calcium increased muscle strength and decreased the risk of falling by almost 50% compared to supplementation of calcium alone. Some researchers recommend that everyone take 1,000 IU daily.

There is a definite connection between vitamin D deficiency and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The rates of these bowel diseases are higher in Northern Europe and North America, which receive less sunlight. Recent research has shown that Nova Scotia has the highest rate, per capita, of Crohn’s disease in the world. I would hope that the scientists are looking into why Nova Scotia has the highest rates of diseases which are caused by vitamin D deficiencies. We also have one of the highest rates of colon cancer, which maybe linked to vitamin D deficiency. Rates of multiple sclerosis in Canada are very high and rates of MS in Nova Scotia are the highest in Canada. This maybe due to a genetic predisposition and lack of exposure to sunlight, which causes the vitamin D deficiency.

Taking too much vitamin D as a supplement can cause problems. It is fat soluable and is stored in body fat, which can build up to toxic levels, with health problems, such as kidney stones. You can’t get too much vitamin D from exposure to sunlight though. Having too much body fat can also interfer with the body producing enough vitamin D, so if you are overweight, you may require more vitamin D.

When I was going to school in the 1950’s and 60’s, we received a cod liver pill every morning from our teacher. The home and school association at our school held a tea and sale every year to fund the purchase of these pills. There had been some research done in the 1930’s which showed that vitamin D can reduce viral infections by 50% in adults taking vitamin D, so we have known about the benefits of this vitamin for some time. This vitamin was given to children years ago to stop rickets, a serious childhood bone disease.

I read a recent article in the newspaper which stated that researchers theorize that a lack of vitamin D, due to low exposure to sunlight during the winter, could make inhabitants of areas like Nova Scotia more susceptible to influenza. A review scheduled to be published in Epidemiology and Infection next month states that the winter flu season could be the result of our reduced exposure to sunlight. Other research over the years have indicated that vitamin D plays an important role in our immune system but there have been no definite conclusions yet about that.

I wouldn’t want to go outside in a T-shirt and shorts from October to April in our climate, even for only ten minutes, to get some exposure to sunlight. I take daily vitamin supplements which include a multi vitamin which has 400 IU of vitamin D and I also take a separate vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. I also have some cod liver capsules, which contain 270 IU of vitamin D, but I haven’t taken them in a few months.

There is so much evidence that most Canadians are not getting enough of this vitamin that we should be taking either cod liver oil capsules or a vitamin D pill daily during the cold months of the year, and ensure we get enough sunlight, without sun screen, during the rest of the year..