As I write this post, the sun started to appear and stayed in the sky for approximately 20 mins. And then I remembered a conversation I recently had with someone who is of African descent and he was telling me that he was deficient in Vitamin D. So, before we are shrouded in darkness and lose the sun for another year, I’m writing this post specifically for melanated (Black) people and those of you that live further away from the equator and experience significant darkness and even less sunlight. Here in the UK, I feel like we are without proper sunlight for at least 6-7 months out of the year, and what makes it worse is when the clocks go forward and it becomes very dark very early, particularly when the day is already grey and miserable.
What is certain is that staying indoors or standing next to a window when the sun is shining is not going to produce Vitamin D in your body and without this essential vitamin, the body is susceptible to dis-ease and illness.
FEEDING YOUR BODY WITH THE SUN
Sun exposure to the skin is the most efficient, effective and natural way to nourish and fuel the body with Vitamin D. Better known for building bones and preventing rickets, enriching your body with vitamin D can lower the risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, sclerosis, memory loss and certain types of cancers. Despite this, many people, especially melanated (Black) people are deficient in this essential vitamin. As I mentioned in the introduction, living far from the equator, with limited sunlight and our sedentary lifestyles which include sitting indoors watching television or glued to the laptop or computer, doesn’t encourage any absorption of vitamin D. And then you also have some ethnicities that deliberately shy away from the sun with fears of developing skin cancer, including many melanated people who ‘don’t like the sun’ which I find very strange!
CREATING VITAMIN D
Dr. Consuelo Hopkins Wilkins wrote ‘everybody has the ability to create vitamin D. And in the second layer of the skin, there’s a kind of a pre-vitamin D. When the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, it activates this pre-vitamin D, which makes its way through the bloodstream to the liver and kidney. There, it gets further activated from pre-vitamin D to vitamin D.’
You don’t need to tan or to burn your skin in order to get the vitamin D you need. For fairer or caucasian people, exposing your skin for a short time will make all the vitamin D your body can produce in one day. In fact, your body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in just a little under the time it takes for your skin to turn pink. You make the most vitamin D when you expose a large area of your skin, such as your back, rather than a small area such as your face or arms.
WHY ARE YOU DEFICIENT?
I visited the vitamin D council who listed some of the reasons why you may be vitamin D deficient.
- The amount of skin you expose. The more skin you expose, the more vitamin D you can produce.
- How old you are. As you get older, your skin has a harder time producing vitamin D.
- Whether you’re wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks a lot of vitamin D production.
- The altitude you’re at. The sun is more intense on top of a mountain than at the beach. This means you make more vitamin D the higher up you are (at higher altitudes).
- Whether it is cloudy. Less UVB reaches your skin on a cloudy day and your skin makes less vitamin D.
- Air pollution. Polluted air soaks up UVB or reflects it back into space. This means that if you live somewhere where there is lots of pollution, your skin makes less vitamin D.
- Being behind glass. Glass blocks all UVB, so you can’t make vitamin D if you’re in sunlight, but behind glass.
MELANIN AND VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
Melanin skin comes in many different beautiful shades, yet we are particularly vulnerable to becoming deficient in vitamin D. Personally, as a melanated woman I adore the sun and whenever possible I take advantage of the sunlight and deliberately expose my skin to it. Fortunately for melanated people, our skin protects us against the ultraviolet rays. But on the flip side and if you have darker melanted skin, this protection blocks the sun’s rays and reduces the ability for the skin to activate and produce vitamin D. Moreover, if you experience a day where the sun is shining, it could take up to two hours to absorb and produce vitamin D.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE VITAMIN D DEFICIENT?
‘Nobody knows your body better than you do!’
For people who have been living a plant-based lifestyle for some time, it will be easier for you to eliminate possible causes and reasons for any sudden changes in your health. But here’s a short list of some of the symptoms you may experience that could be a sign of vitamin D deficiency.
Bone softening (low bone density) or fractures
Fatigue and generalised weakness
Muscle cramps and weakness
Joint pain (most noticeable in the back and knees)
Blood sugar issues
Low calcium levels in the blood
Mood changes and irritability
Visit your doctor and get tested!
Yes, if you’re concerned, visit your doctor and request a blood test. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to ignore any possible symptoms or be without this vital nutrient.
Image credit Harshal Hirve
FOOD VS SUPPLEMENTS
If you were to ask me my stance on supplements, I would tell you that I am anti-supplementation and pro plant- based nutrition to heal your body, especially if you’re experiencing dis-ease or illness. However, there are some instances, such as vitamin D deficiency were I would suggest plant-based foods and supplements.
If you want to raise you vitamin D levels I would suggest buying a plant-based vitamin D3 supplement that contains between 1000 IU and 5000 IU of your daily needs. I would compliment that with all of the following in as many meals throughout the day.
Soy Milk – fortified with vitamin D
Almond Milk – fortified with vitamin D
Orange juice – fortified with vitamin D
Soy Yogurt – fortified with vitamin D
Cereals – fortified with vitamin D
Tofu – fortified with vitamin D
There is no need to suffer from vitamin D deficiency when you can increase your diet with food and supplements. Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that cannot be ignored, especially of you’re melanated. Don’t wait until you have a serious ailment before you do something. Although we can’t change the climate you can always change the state of your health. Or you could simply move to somewhere nearer to the equator!
Let me know in the comments if you’ve suffered from vitamin D deficiency, what you did to alleviate it and how you get your daily intake of this important nutrient.