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Eagle County and the sunshine vitamin

Nick Bitz
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyNick Bitz is a naturopathic doctor at Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic in Edwards.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as an epidemic throughout the United States. And as the dark winter clouds descend upon the Vail Valley to obscure the warm Colorado sunshine, things will only get worse.

A growing body of research has begun to demonstrate the importance of vitamin D, known as the “sunshine” vitamin. Historically vitamin D has been associated with skeletal growth and strong bones. This association arose early in the 20th century when it was shown that rickets, a childhood disease characterized by improper development of bones, could be prevented by a fat-soluble “factor D” in the diet or body exposure to ultraviolet light. Therefore, any compound with curative action on rickets was designated as vitamin D.

Our current understanding of the vitamin is now much more far-reaching, but still far from complete. We know that almost every cell in the human body has a receptor for vitamin D. Thousands of studies have confirmed that vitamin D can improve mood, prevent colds and flu’s, prevent autoimmune disease, build bone mass, increase strength in the elderly, significantly reduce risk of cancer, decrease chronic pain and systemic inflammation and the incidence of heart disease, and much more. With such broad effects on health, scientists are saying that vitamin D might be the most important hormone in the body.

We know that vitamin D is found in small quantities in milk, milk products, fatty fish, sun-dried shiitaki mushrooms, fortified cereals, and a good multivitamin. But the best and most reliable source is sunlight exposure. Every inch of your skin is covered with a cholesterol derivative called 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is converted to vitamin D when exposed to sunlight (or more specifically, the invisible form of sunlight that causes sunburn known as ultraviolet-B). Interestingly, sunscreen with an SPF of 8 will decrease vitamin D synthesis by 92.5 percent, and an SPF of 15 will decrease it by 99 percent. In light of this fact, most naturopathic doctors are beginning to recommend sensible exposure to sunshine. Fifteen to 20 minutes of exposure to midday summer sun on the forearms and face is usually sufficient to raise vitamin D in the blood to healthy levels. And because most tanning beds emit 2 to 6 percent UVB radiation, some docs are even recommending tanning beds for the treatment and prevention of vitamin D deficiency during the wintertime ” in moderation of course and for 30 to 50 percent of the time recommended for tanning.

Many doctors once scoffed at vitamin D deficiency, but testing has become more routine and is now covered by most health insurance plans. In Seattle, which is infamous for dark and excruciating long winters, most hospitals and clinics are routinely checking 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels on patients. In my experience, after living and working in Seattle for the past seven years, approximately 80 to 90 percent of Seattleites are proving to be deficient in this essential nutrient!

Even in sunny Colorado it seems that vitamin D deficiency may be the rule rather than the exception. This is especially true during the winter months, when Colorado is furthest from the sun and located at such an angle to the sun’s radiation that makes it impossible to allow for adequate vitamin D production in the skin. You can literally stand outside naked for eight hours a day during the winter and still not increase your vitamin D levels. This naked truth ” in conjunction with widespread sunscreen use in the summertime, the rise in obesity (which causes the body to sequester the vitamin in fat cells), the high prevalence of various malabsorption syndromes (including wheat and dairy sensitivities), and the use of certain medications (that destroy or block the absorption of vitamin D into the bloodstream) ” suggests that many of us are unknowingly deficient in this important nutriment.

Most experts believe that without adequate sun exposure, children and adults require 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. In cases of frank deficiency, much larger doses are often required to reestablish healthy levels. But be mindful that it is possible to go overboard with supplements. Because vitamin D is fat soluble and can build up in the body, it does have the potential to trigger dangerous calcium deposits in the kidneys and blood vessels. Therefore, it is advised to work closely with a doctor to promptly diagnose and effectively treat vitamin D deficiency. Your heath just might depend on it.

Nick Bitz is a naturopathic doctor at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic in Edwards. To reach the clinic, call 970-926-7606. E-mail comments about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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