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The Sunshine Vitamin and Bone Health


In this second blog of the series, I’m going to delve into the crucial topic of Vitamin D and its impact on our bones. Vitamin D is often known as the sunshine vitamin and it plays a vital role in maintaining strong and healthy bones. Our bodies produce some vitamin D from the food we eat, but most comes from exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is also a hormone and it helps to control how cells and organs function.

 

Vitamin D is more than just a nutrient; it's a product of sunlight interacting with our skin. When our skin soaks in sunlight, it triggers the production of Vitamin D, a key player in calcium absorption and bone mineralization. Without adequate Vitamin D, our bones struggle to absorb the necessary calcium, which can lead to weakened bones and increased susceptibility to fractures. Low vitamin D levels have also been linked to fatigue, not sleeping well, depression, muscle weakness and cancers.

 

Vitamin D from the sun

Where we are in Northern Ireland, we get no vitamin D from the sun from about September through to about March. Even on those lovely sunny days we have in winter sometimes there’s no D, nowt, nada ……... you get the picture.

 

When our skin is exposed to UVB rays from the sun, it makes Vitamin D from cholesterol.  This means that we need to expose some skin to sunlight to get enough of it. Around midday, especially in the summer, is the best time to get the UVB rays that we need. In the UK, a study has shown that 13 minutes of midday sun exposure during the summertime, three times per week, with face, legs and arms exposed without sunscreen (and without burning) is enough to maintain healthy levels among white-skinned adults.[1] Some studies estimate that darker-skinned people may need from 30 minutes to 3 hours longer to get enough vitamin D and are at higher risk of deficiency[2]. This is to do with the amount of melanin in the skin. It’s a bit of a dilemma but the bottom line is – expose skin to sunlight, but do not get sunburnt and, if necessary, supplement. By the way, it’s fine to wear a hat and sunglasses as the face and head is a small part of the body that doesn’t produce much vitamin D and it’s good to protect the eyes from UVB rays.

 

However, anyone at high risk of developing skin cancer, including the immunosuppressed and people with genetic susceptibility to or previous history of skin cancer need to continue to practice avoidance of sunlight – these individuals will need to investigate supplementation as an alternative.

 

Vitamin D from food

We can get a little vitamin D from food, but it’s mostly animal-based. Here are some examples: fatty fish, e.g.,salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines, egg yolks, beef liver or fish liver (think cod liver oil), cheese, dark chocolate and mushrooms. Here’s a tip – put your mushrooms on a sunny windowsill and they may provide you with a little bit more vitamin D.

 

Some foods are fortified with the vitamin, e.g. milk, breakfast cereals, orange juice and plant-based drinks[3].

 

Nevertheless, it’s very difficult to get sufficient vitamin D from food sources and, as we are so far north, it’s almost a given that we have to supplement during the winter months. However, it’s really important to check our existing levels before just taking a supplement as it is possible to have levels that are too high. Your doctor may be able to help or, if you can do a finger-prick test yourself, go to www.vitamindtest.org.uk and order a kit. At time of writing, it costs £31. It’s what I use to test myself – I test every 3-4 months as levels can fluctuate quickly.

 

There’s a recipe for a very simple Vitamin D-rich salmon salad at the bottom. Try it and let me know what you think.

 

Now let’s look at how Shiatsu and Qigong may be able to help.

 

 

Shiatsu: Pressing the Right Points

Shiatsu is a hands-on therapy that involves applying pressure to specific points on the body. When it comes to bone health, one valuable point may be Stomach 36 (ST36) – also known as ‘Leg Three Miles’.

 

Location: this point is 4 finger-widths below the kneecap and one finger-width to the outside of the fibula or shinbone.

 

Purpose: ST36 is associated with the Stomach meridian and is known for its role in supporting overall energy and digestion. In the context of bone health, a well-functioning digestive system is crucial for nutrient absorption.

 

Here is a short video showing you where the point is and how you can massage it easily.

 

Qigong: Channelling Energy for Bone Health

Now let’s demystify Qigong. It’s not about mysterious forces or woo-woo stuff – it’s about channelling your body’s energy, or Qi (pronounced chee) to support good health. In my classes, I teach the physical forms, or movements of Qigong and, whilst doing this I focus on awareness of how the form actually feels rather than trying to get it perfect. When we’ve repeated a form a few times (or a lot of times for more complex ones) we don’t have to think about the movement, we feel it and it becomes second nature. This is where we can start visualisations and maybe even having the intention of channelling energy to certain parts of the body. In these blogs, I’m interested in bones, so we can have the intention of sending energy to bones.

 

Here is a short video of a form called Wind Blowing the Willows. This form may support your kidneys (see Shiatsu section, above) and, when you’ve got the hang of the form and the breathing for it then play around with visualising breathing in and bringing energy to your bones, enhancing their strength and density.

 

You can even do this visualisation without any movements at all – find somewhere to sit quietly and start to deepen and slow down your breathing. When you feel calmer and your breathing is longer and deeper, then start the visualisation of breathing energy into your bones, supporting strength and density. You can do this for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or however long you have.

 

These types of practice aren’t magic or weird (well, maybe a little bit weird), they’re actually practical ways to support your bones. If nothing else, they will help you to reduce stress levels for a few minutes and that helps reduce some of the chemicals washing through our bodies that inhibit or reduce absorption of calcium, leading to impaired bones. I’ll focus more on this in a later blog post.


What do you think about Vitamin D - have you ever checked your levels? Did you know about its importance in the health of our bones? Comment below with any questions.

 

Next month we will be exploring the balance between acidic and alkaline foods for optimal bone health.

 

With warmth and wellness,

Ettaline

 

And now, here is that lovely and very simple recipe mentioned above. This not only aligns with the science on vitamin D and bone health, but also caters to your taste buds. Perfect for an easy lunch or a light dinner or starter.




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