Stay out of the sun! It’s bad for your health! There are a lot of words of caution being spoken these days about overexposure to the sun, and they should be taken seriously. But sunshine, despite its potentially harmful effects, is good for your health, according to David Watkins, director of Kindred Sacramento. Exposure to the sun’s rays will provide you with a vitamin that helps keep your teeth and bones healthy. It’s Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” When you go outdoors on a sunny day, the inactive vitamin is formed and this is slowly converted into an active form.
You can get vitamin D from some foods, but up to 84 percent of the total active vitamin D in your body is made right in your skin. Several factors determine how much vitamin D your body will make:
* The length of time you spend in sunlight.
* The intensity of sunlight.
* The amount of air pollution present.
* Your basic skin color.
Nutrition experts agree that being exposed to 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight, two times per week, is enough to meet your needs for vitamin D. Elderly people and those with very dark skin may need to stay outside a little longer if they live in the northern latitudes. They may also need to increase their intake of foods high in vitamin D.
Once active, vitamin D helps maintain your body’s levels of calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that are responsible for keeping your bones and teeth strong and hard.
D and Deficiency
If you don’t take in enough vitamin D, you could eventually develop a vitamin D deficiency. If this happens when you’re a child, it’s called rickets. Your bones become so soft and weak that your leg bones may bow out under your weight. If you become vitamin D deficient when you’re an adult, it’s called osteomalacia. Your bones become very thin and are more likely to fracture.
Longer exposure to the sun will not create a vitamin D overdose, and you also can’t overdose from eating foods high in vitamin D. But you can run into problems if you take a lot of vitamin D in pill form. Too much of this vitamin can cause headaches, nausea, diarrhea, hardening of tissue, and kidney damage. Nutritionists point out that eating a balanced diet and normal exposure to sunlight will meet your daily requirement for vitamin D.
Vitamin E: Anti-Aging?
Vitamin E has sometimes been labeled a “magical pill” that could restore spirit and stamina in the sick and the aging. Scientists have dismissed these claims as absurd. However, current studies have revealed new information about vitamin E.
Researchers at Brown University say that vitamin E may help reduce risk of heart disease. Having enough vitamin E may also slow the process of aging and in other ways help you stay healthy and live longer, according to a nutrition researcher at Tufts University.
The vitamin’s benefits can be traced to its protective antioxidant effect. Researchers think that cell damage (and therefore aging and age-related diseases) is caused by “oxygen-free radicals.” These unstable molecules are produced during metabolism. Vitamin E is part of a defense system that can block these free radicals and make them harmless. This protective effect can lessen and even prevent damage to cell membranes.
Some researchers believe that vitamin E can also work together with other antioxidants: beta-carotene (from carrots and other orange, red, and yellow vegetables), the mineral selenium, and vitamin C.
The Research Continues
Researchers continue to study the antioxidant effects of vitamin E. Some recent scientific findings they are working to validate include vitamin E’s potential to boost the immune system, as well as to help prevent the buildup of artery-clogging fats. Research is probing whether vitamin E may protect against the blood clots that cause heart disease and stroke. The vitamin seems to make blood particles less sticky and therefore less likely to attach to your arterial walls.
Vitamin E’s ability to reduce the risk for cancer by neutralizing cancer-causing free radicals is also being investigated, as is the possibility that vitamin E may reduce the severity and slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. This illness occurs in older people when certain brain cell membranes are damaged.
Other study is focused on whether vitamin E may help prevent cataracts from forming on the lens of the eye.
Do You Need to Supplement?
These remarkable claims should not, however, spur you to dash to your local health food store to buy supplements. Scientists are quick to admit that not enough research has been done to establish the need for more vitamin E than recommended. They’re not even sure which form of vitamin E works the best.
You can experience side effects from taking massive doses of this vitamin. Vitamin E can thin your blood and cause nausea and diarrhea. So it’s not wise to take large doses without a physician’s supervision.
Vitamin E deficiency is rare in the United States. It has occurred in premature infants and in people who can’t absorb fat properly, such as persons with cystic fibrosis.
Until extensive research proves otherwise, nutrition experts claim that if you eat a balanced diet, you will receive all the vitamin E you need through food.