Surprise, surprise, December is one of the darkest months in Ireland with just eight hours of daylight and under two hours of average sunlight. Ok, so there is lots of artificial Christmas light to keep us happy but who doesn’t miss the feel of sun on their skin? And it feels good for a reason - the body uses sunlight to create Vitamin D which is crucial to our health and wellbeing. We all need to know more about this extraordinary ‘sunshine vitamin’ so here’s 10 fascinating facts:

1. We call it a vitamin but actually Vitamin D acts more like a hormone; the body makes Vitamin D itself when exposed to sunshine.

2. Vitamin D is most famous for how it helps us use calcium and phosphorus for strong teeth and bones. However, it is involved in hundreds of other functions in the endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems. In fact, it plays a role in the life cycle of every cell in the body.

3. Pale Northern European skin is a relatively modern mutation which lets us absorb more Vitamin D from less sunshine. Melanin, the naturally occurring pigment responsible for darker skin, blocks UVB rays. The palest people may get by with 15 minutes sunshine three times a week. Those with dark skin need 3-6 times more sunshine.

4. Sunscreen blocks the rays which the body uses to create Vitamin D, as does glass. Sitting in a sunny window or car feels great but we’re not getting the full benefit. However, the same UVB rays which stimulate the production of Vitamin D are also responsible for skin cancer, so only moderate exposure is advised.

5. We can get Vitamin D from sunshine OR food. Salmon and mackerel are best. Tuna and sardines have some Vitamin D while tofu, beef liver and egg yolks are reasonably good sources, as are fortified orange juice and milk. Most food however, has no vitamin D whatsoever.

Vitamin D Rich Foods

6. Inuits, who live very far north in almost total winter darkness, eat Vitamin D-rich oily fish and seal and whale fat to survive.

7. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to brittle or soft bones in adults and rickets in children, as well as a compromised immune system.

8. Many Irish people are deficient. It’s easy to find out if you are. Ask your doctor about a blood test.

9. Those who are overweight, over 50 or have digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease are more likely to be deficient.

10. Vitamin D supplementation is effective. Choose a good quality supplement such as Cleanmarine for Women which also comes with stress-busting B Vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids for brain, eye and joint health; Omega 3’s from oily fish are another essential part of that incredible Inuit recipe for glowing good health.

We should pop out for winter walks any chance we get. The fresh air and endorphins do us good - and who knows - the sun might even shine. Meanwhile, perhaps it’s time to start planning a sun holiday!

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