Vitamin D!

It seems like everyday there is more research coming out about the importance of Vitamin D. With it’s influence on our immune system, now is an important time to make sure you have sufficient Vitamin D levels.

How do we make vitamin D?

Sunshine is how we make vitamin D. When you are exposed to UVB rays, our bodies make cholecalciferol (D3) from cholesterol in our skin.  It is then converted to 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the liver.  This is what is measured in a vitamin D blood test.  From here it gets converted to its active form, calcitriol, either in the kidneys or by the immune system and then released into circulation for the body to use.

Sunscreen blocks UV light, so if you are conscientious about applying it, you may not be making enough vitamin D in your body.  In the winter months, even in Australia, the days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky resulting in less UV rays getting to us.  So even in Australia many people are vitamin D deficient.

What happens if we don’t get enough vitamin D?

We need vitamin D to absorb calcium from our diet.  So if we don’t get enough the body takes calcium out of the bones to use for muscle and nerve functioning as well as blood clotting.  This can result in softening of the bones called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.  

We have known that vitamin D was important for bone health for many years, but only recently have we realised that it affects other parts of the body as well.  We need it for a proper functioning immune system so that we can effectively fight off infections.  Vitamin D also decreases inflammation and low levels have a particular effect on the symptoms of asthma and arthritis.  Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

How do we get enough vitamin D?

Ideally we get it from the sun as this is the most effective way.  But we still want to be careful of getting burned. Depending on your location and the time of year, it is generally recommended to get outside before 10am or after 4pm for about 20mins with as much skin showing as possible.  Although winters in Australia are far from cold and snowy in most parts, we still don’t get much sunshine with shorter days and the sun being low in the sky.  My family doesn’t wear any sunscreen in the winter.

Some people may need to take a supplement.  If you have darker skin you won’t make vitamin D as efficiently.  Also menopausal women may need to supplement due to hormonal changes.  Anyone who diligently wears sunscreen or covers most of his or her skin with clothing should also consider a supplement.  The American paediatric association also recommends supplementing infants.  Breastfed infants are most likely deficient because their mothers are deficient and they are rarely left out in the sun.  

So try to get outside everyday if possible.  This is especially important with winter coming along as our days get shorter.  And if you think you may be deficient, talk to your naturopath about getting it tested.

Healthy Travel

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Many of us travel from time to time for business or pleasure. No matter where you are going, you don’t want to arrive sick. This can be especially problematic during plane travel as everyone is in a small space with limited air circulation. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and rested during flights. I like to keep everything all in a small case that fits in the seat pocket so I can access them at all times.

Vitamin C is great for helping your immune system to function properly. You can take 1 gram every 2 hours while you are flying then take 2-3 grams/day while you are away. If you feel like you are getting sick while away, increase this to 5-6 grams per day. If you get loose stools, decease the dose. Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific strain of probiotic that is great for helping diarrhoea. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge so it is easy to travel with. If you have symptoms, take up to 2 capsules, 2x/day. Flying can be stressful not matter what your circumstances and stress does a number on the immune system. Rescue Remedy can be calming as well as help stave off headaches or colds.

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Bring your own water bottle. The occasional small glass of water is not enough, especially for long fights. The air on planes is dry, so you need to drink more than usual. If you are on a flight that is more than a couple hours, take electrolyte tablets with you as plane (get it, plane) water just won’t cut it.  This is especially important if you ever get headaches on the plane.  These are my favourite as they are low in sugar – https://nuunlife.com (I have no affiliation with them, just really like the product). I put half a tablet in the little plastic cups you get on the plane.

A saline nasal spray can also be helpful in such a dry environment. Bugs love dry nasal passages. Keep them moist to ward off getting sick and also to prevent cracking and bleeding. Thyme oil is also great at killing bugs. Put a few drops on a cloth and breathe deeply.

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If you are traveling a long distance it is important to sleep on the plane and adjust to the time change easily. Melatonin can be helpful for this. It occurs naturally in your body to maintain your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t sleep properly your body won’t make enough. Take 1-2 mg as you try to sleep on the plane, and then when you go to bed at your destination. Keep taking each night until you get a good night’s sleep. This can be taken in conjunction with some prescription sleep medication to improve the quality of sleep, but please talk to a naturopath before doing this. It is also helpful to take an eye mask. Bodies like to sleep in the dark, so your sleep will be much better if you wear an eye mask.

Last but certainly not least, exercise! The longer the flight the more important it is. You aren’t expected to stick to your regular fitness routine on a plane, but you want to get up every 1-2 hours to keep your blood circulating and prevent clots. If you can’t get up because the person next to you is sound asleep, you can still keep your blood moving – flex your muscles, starting at your toes and working your way up to your buttocks. Do this 10-15 times every hour to keep your blood moving.

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Here are a few non-health related suggestions from a veteran traveler:

  • Give a photocopy of your ticket and passport to a friend or family member staying at home. You can also scan them both and email them to yourself so that you can get a copy anywhere you go.
  • Arrive early and ask about the seating. If flying economy, the best seats are usually the ones either right behind business class or by the emergency exits as they have more leg room and can sometimes get up without disturbing the person beside you. These are sometimes saved until the day of the flight. Ask at the gate if you can change to a better seat.
  • Put all your carry-on luggage in a small rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack as you will have to walk far through the airport.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Even if you have to go to a meeting at the other end, it is nicer to travel in something comfortable, and then you can change either on the plane or before you get your luggage.
  • Take a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth on the plane
  • Always pack a spare pair of undies and a shirt in your carry-on.  You never know if your luggage will be arriving with you.

If you have any questions about travel, talk to your local naturopath.  Happy travels!