When I was a kid, I used to observe this age old tradition. The tradition of laying down infants on the verandah of the house, in the morning. And that was for the dose of sunshine vitamin or Vitamin D. The practice has slowly vanished, mainly because of urbanization. When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time time at the playgrounds of our school. The playgrounds welcomed kids for unstructured play during 30 mins of lunch break daily. Today, schools have playgrounds. But kids are mostly allowed there during sports periods. At home also, kids donot get enough Vitamin D. This is because of the following reasons. Now-a-days, kids play mostly indoors, or at covered play spaces. The result is quite obvious from recent studies on Vitamin D. Today, doctors say 6 out of 10 children suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, due to less exposure to sun. Not only kids, several studies over the years have shown that more than 50% of the Indian population is vitamin D-deficient.
What is Vitamin D and how is it useful for our body?
Vitamin D is fat-soluble vitamin. It is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Vitamin D is essential for calcium to enter our bones. This prevents rickets (dental and skeletal deformities, bone pain or tenderness, impaired growth) in children, and osteoporosis and osteomalacia (bones to become weak, brittle and more prone to fractures) in adults. Deficiency of Vitamin D is also linked to autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
What is Vitamin D deficiency?
The most reliable marker of vitamin D status is the serum concentration of 25(OH)D. In infants and children, it is desirable to maintain 25(OH)D between 15–20 ng/mL. To maintain that, Vitamin D intake of at least 400 IU in infancy and 600 IU during childhood and adolescence is essential. In adults, 25(OH)D < 20 ng/mL is considered as deficiency, insufficiency as 20–29 ng/mL and sufficiency as ≥30 ng/mL.
What are the sources of Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is made when sun light reacts with a compound called, 7-dehydrocholesterol, in our skin. The sun emits light with varying spectra. The UVB (the B band of ultra violet rays) stimulates the production of vitamin D. In 30 minutes, around 3000IU (international units) of vitamin D is formed and absorbed into the body. Most people require only few minutes of exposure to obtain their daily requirements of this important vitamin.
Vitamin D is also found in a small number of food items. The richest natural source is cod liver oil. The other sources are egg yolks, some fish (mackerel, catfish, tuna, sardines and herring) [cholecalciferol] and certain mushrooms (maitake, chanterelle and morel) [ergocalciferol]. There are many fortified food items available in the market. These are milk and milk alternatives, cereals, orange juice, yogurt etc. Cholecalciferol causes a greater rise in vitamin D levels compared to ergocalciferol when given at a same dose.
We get almost 90% of our vitamin D from sunlight, and less than 10% of the daily requirement from diet. The duration of sun exposure required to produce optimal levels of vitamin D depends on skin pigmentation, proportion of body covered, time of exposure, latitude, season, and the level of atmospheric pollution. Here are 5-tips to boost sunshine vitamin for kids:
1. Avoidance of excessive use of sunscreens: Increasing sun avoidance and high-SPF sunscreens is a huge factor in declining blood levels of Vitamin D. So when you want to give a boost of Vitamin D avoid excessive application of sunscreen.
2. Clothing during exposure to sunlight: It is important to expose 18% of the body, that is bare arms and bare face; without protection with clothes. Post sun exposure, you can apply aloe vera or lacto calamine to sooth and calm the skin.
3. Duration of exposure to sunlight: We make enough precursors by exposure to the sunlight for 5-10 minutes every day or 30 minutes three times a week. This can be made possible in kids by encouraging them to play outdoors, or taking them for brisk walk over the weekend.
4. Timing of exposure to sunlight: UV-B radiation from the sun are most intense during mid-day. The best time of exposure is between 10 am to 3 pm. Outside this duration, little longer exposure may be required to produce the same amount of the vitamin.
5. Supplementation in diet: Most experts feel it is tough to get Vitamin D dose from diet alone. Along with sunlight, they recommend to provide Vitamin D rich foods and supplements. Children with fat malabsorption, and those who require long-term use of seizure medications may need higher dosages of vitamin D because of increased risk of deficiency.
Not only physical health, sunlight is an important indicator of our mental health too. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotnin is considered our happy hormone. Serotonin boosts our mood and helps feel calm and focused.
They say “When we open ourselves up to receive the light, our beauty shines forth”.