July is finally here! The kids break up from school in France today and summer is officially upon us. It’s been a tough year for us all hasn’t it? In so many ways.
Love French Style’s well-being expert Lucy Thompson has written us a wonderful piece to head into the summer holidays with. Over to you Lucy…x
It feels like we’ve waited so long for it to arrive in earnest this summer and we just want to enjoy it to the max this year – and for once I am going to gloss over all the information about SPFs etc and skin protection – we’re used to hearing about how too much of the sun’s warm rays can be harmful to your skin. But did you know the right balance can have lots of mood-lifting benefits?
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep.
Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder or SAD – a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.
A mood boost isn’t the only reason to get increased amounts of sunlight. There are several health benefits associated with catching moderate amounts of rays.
Building strong bones
Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to create vitamin D As a rough estimate – about a 30-minute period while wearing a swimsuit, will make the following vitamin D levels:
- 50,000 international units (IUs) in most Caucasian people
- 20,000 to 30,000 IUs in tanned people
- 8,000 to 10,000 IUs in dark skinned people
The vitamin D made thanks to the sun plays a big role in bone health. As many of you will know that low vitamin D levels have been linked to rickets in children and bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
It used to be simple: just get a “healthy” tan and your body will make all the vitamin D it needs. Desk jobs and sunscreen have changed all that, just as research is underlining the importance of vitamin D and suggesting its possible role in preventing many health problems. That makes vitamin D a dilemma of modern life that has a modern solution: Eating fish and drinking some low-fat fortified milk, along with judicious doses of vitamin D supplements, along with some sensible sun exposure.
Vitamin D benefits
- Plays a major role in improving bone health since it is necessary for the absorption of calcium in the body
- Improves immunity, along with brain and nervous system
- Plays a role in regulating insulin levels, and hence, helps in the management of Type 2 Diabetes
- Helps in the improvement of lung function and cardiovascular health
- Also plays an important role in the management of obesity
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to the deficiency of Calcium. This is mainly due to the fact that the body needs the vitamin to absorb Calcium. Without enough of it, one can’t form enough of the hormone calcitriol. This, in turn, leads to insufficient calcium absorption from the diet. In situations like this, the body is forced to turn to the skeleton for its supply of the mineral. Eventually, this causes existing bones to get weakened and prevents the formation of a strong, new bone in children.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency
- Lowered immunity
- Pain in the bones
- Fatigue and weakness
- Mood swings
- Hair loss
Vitamin D deficiency risk factor
The following factors can increase your risk of deficiency of this invaluable nutrient:
Ideally, one must spend at least 20 minutes each day out in the sun. Anything less than that could lead to a deficiency of Vitamin D in the body. On the other hand, you must take care to not spend too much time out in the sun since that could lead to overexposure to the Ultraviolet B rays. Additionally, the use of sunscreen whenever one steps out in the sun can be a major factor in the risk of deficiency. While it can block out the harmful Ultraviolet B rays, it also hinders the production of Vitamin D in one’s skin.
As you grow older, the ability of your body to produce this all-important nutrient drops. Thus, there is a pretty significant drop in Vitamin D levels for older people.
People with excess body fat levels are seen to have very little of the vitamin in their bodies. Therefore, overweight or obese people have a much higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Overcoming Vitamin D deficiency
The following methods can help increase the vitamin content in the body and thus overcome a deficiency of the nutrient:
- It is recommended that one spends 20 minutes in the sun every day in order to overcome Vitamin D deficiency. This can be clubbed with an outdoor workout or a daily walk.
- Make sure you include Vitamin D rich foods like mushrooms, fish, egg yolk and fortified cereals in your diet. In addition to this, have enough calcium through dairy and eggs and green leafy veggies.
- In case the vitamin levels in your body are still low, turning to Vitamin D supplements is a great option. If you are concerned you may not be getting enough Vitamin D then we are lucky over here in France that a simple blood test will pick this up and it’s liberally available.
Vitamin D foods
In the present day and age, most cases of Vitamin D deficiency are due to a lack of exposure to sunlight. Therefore, the best way to improve its intake is through sunlight. However, the consumption of certain foods can surely help increase vitamin levels in the body.
While they may not be the most impressive sources of Vitamin D, both red meat and poultry do contain the vitamin. That said, organ meat is probably the best way to boost your intake of this essential nutrient but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Apart from fortified foods, few varieties of mushroom are the only plant sources of Vitamin D. Just like humans, mushrooms synthesize the vitamin when exposed to sunlight.
While most types of fish have the vitamin, the more oily or fatty fish are likely to contain more Vitamin D than the less oily ones. Salmon, trout, mackerel, and tuna are amongst the most popular fish that are rich in the vitamin.
The protein source in an egg may be the whites but the yolks are just as important. The yolk of the egg also contains Vitamin D, just like other vitamins and minerals.
Here’s a full list of a whole range of foods that contain calcium: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/calcium-content-of-foods
There is very less Vitamin D content available in natural food sources. However, certain foods are fortified with the nutrient. Several foods and beverages are fortified with the vitamin across the world. Orange juice, milk, cereal, and oatmeal are the best examples of the same.
Vitamin D and Weight Loss
A less commonly known fact is the connection between Vitamin D and weight loss. A shortage of the vitamin decreases serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects everything in the body from one’s mood to sleep regulation. Thus, we see increased levels of cortisol production. Eventually, this slows down one’s weight loss or even causes the person to hit a weight loss plateau.
The right amount of Vitamin D in one’s body helps aid weight loss by altering the storage and formation of fat cells and increasing the serotonin and testosterone levels in the body. It helps keep hormone levels in check, which also may help enhance weight loss and decrease body fat.
A final note on this happy hormone and it’s link to vitamin D
Inadequate levels of vitamin D (∼70% of the population) and omega-3 fatty acids *(for another blog) are common, suggesting that brain serotonin synthesis is not optimal. Research has found that the symptoms of SAD coincide with a reduction in vitamin D3, which in turn affects serotonin levels in the brain.
Does vitamin D stimulate serotonin?
Brain serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan by tryptophan hydroxylase 2, which is transcriptionally activated by vitamin D hormone. So yes – it’s all part and parcel of the same synthesis pathway.
This suggests that adequate levels of vitamin D may be required to produce serotonin in the brain where it shapes the structure and wiring of the brain, acts as a neurotransmitter, and affects social behaviour.
Getting some sun increases your serotonin and helps you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and sun exposure can also help people with anxiety and depression, especially in combination with other treatments. Serotonin is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. This amino acid must enter your body through your diet and is commonly found in foods such as nuts, cheese, and red meat. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower serotonin levels, alongside vitamin D.
We are a complex web of pathways and hormones but I think it’s best summed up by this closing point….Keep your face always toward the sunshine—and shadows will fall behind you.
Thank you so much Lucy and have a great holiday season x