Wellness: Vitamin D

This winter, shine on.

By Suzana Sakay, Director of Wellness & Enterprise Systems

Vitamin D, or the “sunshine vitamin,” is unfortunately often taken for granted. A warm summer, a mid-winter beach getaway, or an occasional sunny day when we least expect
it, and we feel fully recharged. It takes more than that, however. Much more!

Air quality, use of sunscreen, and skin tone can all impact how much vitamin D we absorb. But for us living in the Pacific Northwest, the challenges don’t end there.

We’ve turned to WAC Naturopath Dr. Tressa Pinkleton for clarification on the benefits of vitamin D and suggestions for how to stay ahead of vitamin D deficiency. Some of these methods can be administered right here in our WAC Wellness Center. For more information, contact the Wellness Center and set up an appointment.

Suzana Sakay oversees the Wellness Center, Spa at the WAC, and various Club projects. Contact her at ssakay@wac.net or 206.464.3069.

Flu season and you

The amazing role of vitamin D and why you don’t have enough

By Dr. Tressa Pinkleton, WAC Naturopath

Now that fall is here, and winter is right around the corner, many of us are bracing for cold and flu season. Flu shots, vitamin C, chicken noodle soup, antiviral herbal supplements … the list of preventive measures goes on and on. But one of the least mentioned prophylactics is actually one of the most effective—vitamin D.

Vitamin D is one of several hormones that originate from cholesterol. An enzyme in specialized skin cells turns cholesterol into a precursor of vitamin D. When this precursor is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun, vitamin D is synthesized.

Our bodies need adequate vitamin D for several reasons, including:

  • It helps increase calcium and potassium levels, keeping bones healthy and strong.
  • It has been shown in several studies to help protect against autoimmune diseases and even certain cancers.
  • It plays a crucial role in immune system functioning.

Peak season

T-lymphocytes, the specialized white blood cells that are activated during viral infections, have vitamin D receptors that, when stimulated, help T-cells react to and attack pathogens such as flu or cold viruses.

The flu, also known as influenza, tends to peak in King County from January through March. The medical community is beginning to understand, however, that this peak is not because there are more viral pathogens during those months, but rather this is when vitamin D levels in our population tend to be lowest.

Why are vitamin D levels low enough in winter to affect our immune systems in such deleterious ways? Well, for two reasons:

  1. Location on the globe. As stated before, we need ultraviolet light from the sun to stimulate specialized skin cells to synthesize vitamin D. What most people don’t know is that the sunlight needs to hit our skin at a certain angle for this to happen, and our northern latitude in the Pacific Northwest makes this angle impossible to achieve from mid-October through mid-March. So no matter how sunny it may be, or how bare your skin is when you’re outside, your body cannot make vitamin D at all during those months.
  2. Sunblock. Our bodies are actually able to create enough vitamin D in the summer to last us through winter. All we really need is 15–20 minutes a day of sun exposure on the bare skin of our forearms, upper chest, and face to synthesize 25,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D. The use of sunblock, however, significantly decreases our ability to do this—upward of 95 percent!

What to do

With this fuller understanding of vitamin D and our immune system, it’s clear that supplementation is necessary for many of us living in the greater Seattle area.

  1. Get your vitamin D levels checked regularly.
  2.  If the test shows you’re low, fill up with supplementation.

Weekly vitamin D injections can keep your immune system at full strength as the cold and flu season swirls about. Moreover, vitamin D can play a pivotal role when you feel an illness coming on and reduce its duration and severity.

By helping our bodies help themselves, we can achieve and maintain optimal wellness no matter what time of year.

As published in the November/December 2016 issue of WAC Magazine.

—Posted November 10, 2016

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