Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunshine Superman- The Vitamin D solution!

The sun in important for cats, too!

Here is my little cat boy, Ty, taking in some sun in the garden..

Since I base my whole fitness regimen on what he does, since he is totally "au Naturale", I knew he was on to something.

Actually, I've always KNOWN that sun exposure is good, just so long as you don't BURN! To the ancient Greeks, the SUN was their first recourse for healing. Anything in EXCESS is bad, this includes the sun. BUT, to exclude it, is like excluding lean meats, fruits, nuts, and vegetables- BAD!

Can't wait to read this book in it's entirety!

J and Ty

Sunshine Superman

“If I had to give you a single secret ingredient that could apply to the prevention — and treatment, in many cases — of heart disease, common cancers, stroke, infectious diseases from influenza to tuberculosis, type 1 and 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, insomnia, muscle weakness, joint pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and hypertension, it would be this: vitamin D.”

During the whirlwind that has been my life of late, I managed to make my way through Dr. Michael Holick’s terrific book The Vitamin D Solution from which the above quote comes. Before I get started on my review, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve got to tell you that of all the books I’ve reviewed on this blog since its inception, this is the first and only one that I’ve been sent gratis by the publisher. It was strange how it came about. I learned of this book long before it was published and had pre-ordered it through Amazon. A few weeks or so after my pre-order, I received an email from the publisher’s PR agent for this book asking if I would like a pre-publication copy for possible review. I sure would, said I, and promptly canceled my Amazon order.

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Holick’s for years now, reading every paper he publishes, which is a considerable job given his prolific output. I’ve corresponded with him a time or two on a few issues and he has always been very generous with his advice. I consider him THE authority on vitamin D. So, I was eager to dig into his book.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I figured that somewhere along the way, Dr. Holick had gotten intrigued with vitamin D, had pursued his interest and had become sort of a guru. But in reading his book, I learned that he is much more than that. He began studying vitamin D as a graduate student and ended up being the person who actually discovered 1,25 (OH)D, the major circulating form of vitamin D in humans. This was back in the early 1970s, and he’s been studying vitamin D without letup since. His book is the most up-to-date source of all the science available about this amazing nutrient.

Dr. Holick sums up the importance of vitamin D to human well being in this single sentence from early in the book:

The sun is as vital to your health and well-being as food, shelter, water and oxygen.

Which seems reasonable since every morsel of energy we consume originates with the sun. No sun, no plants. No plants, no animals. No plants and animals, no us. As Sir Karl Popper noted, we eat the sun. We evolved in the sunlight, so it makes sense that the sun offers other benefits as well food.

Dr. Holick begins his book with a fascinating comparison of a ten-year-old girl growing up somewhere along the equator to a ten-year-old girl growing up in the United States or Europe. The former will probably never learn how to use a computer, never go to a mall, never learn to drive a car and will probably end up spending most of her life outside tilling the soil as did her parents and grandparents. She will probably experience periods in her life of poverty and poor nutrition. By contrast, her US or European counterpart will always have plenty to eat, will learn to shop, order pizza, operate a computer, Game Boy, Wii, and God only knows what other kinds of electronics. She will have her doting parents slather sunscreen on her to protect her skin from birth until she’s old enough to do it herself. She will come of age in a different world, filled with the latest in medical technology.

And she will pay for it with her health.

Her equatorial counterpart will be only half as likely to get cancer in her lifetime. She will have an 80 percent reduction in risk of developing type I diabetes before the age of 30. And she will live longer. If she can avoid trauma or an untreated severe medical condition, the girl growing up in the more primitive but sunny circumstances will have an overall 7 percent greater longevity than her US/European counterpart. She will have stronger bones, lower blood pressure, fewer cavities in her teeth, a greatly reduced risk for heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, arthritis and most of the other diseases that will plague her more Westernized sisters.

Why the difference? According to Dr. Holick, the equatorial girl has vastly more exposure to natural sunlight over her lifetime than does the other.

But, you might ask, why don’t the children in the US and Europe play outside more in the sunshine and reap its many benefits? A couple of reasons. Most of the US and Europe are too far north to get enough sun exposure to generate the production of adequate vitamin D during a large part of the year. And, second, most parents are so fearful of sunburn that they slather their kids with sunscreen if and when they let these children play outside during the part of the year they can make adequate vitamin D. Since a sunscreen with an SPF of only 8 reduces the synthesis of vitamin D by 95 percent, think of how little vitamin D children with sunscreens of SPF 30 or 45 are making. Zero.



Readers of this blog know that I refer to people who have an unreasoning fear of fat as lipophobes, fat fearers. Well, since Helios was the Greek god of the sun, I’ll call those who have an unreasoning fear of the sun heliophobes.

Why do people become heliophobes? Same reason they become lipophobes: they refuse to think.

Just as lipophobes see a heart attack in every morsel of fat, heliophobes see skin cancer in every ray of sunshine.

To give them their due, the heliophobes have at least a smidgen of data to bolster their point of view. Unlike the lipophobes, who have no reliable data demonstrating that saturated fat causes heart disease, the heliophobes can point convincingly at the data showing sun exposure causes problems for the skin.

Unquestionably, excess sun exposure causes premature aging of the skin and a couple of types of skin cancer. Of this there is no doubt. But, lack of adequate vitamin D appears to be related to an entire host of serious problems including melanoma, the most dangerous and deadly form of skin cancer. The most common type of skin cancer from overexposure is basal cell carcinoma, which is just about the least malignant of all cancers, and if treated (by removal) results in virtually no mortality. The same can’t be said for prostate, breast and colon cancers, all cancers thought to be sun (or, more correctly, lack of sun) related. These cancers are much more prevalent the farther north one goes and almost non-existent at the equator.

The trade off, in my opinion, is well worth it. Especially when it’s possible to have the best of both worlds and avoid both the premature aging, minor skin cancers AND the breast, prostate and colon cancers (not to mention multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, and the host of other disorders laid at the doorstep of too little vitamin D) by sensible sun exposure.

Dr. Holick tells you how. He provides charts and tables telling you how much sun exposure you require for adequate vitamin D synthesis depending upon where you live in the world. And he describes how you can make up any difference by taking vitamin D supplements.