Have you ever wondered why we feel so good when we go outside on a sunny day? Our head clears a bit, our stress seems to dissipate a bit, and our happiness increases, even (and especially) for children. When they are “cooped up” all day indoors, they tend to be less happy, less cooperative, and they do not focus as clearly. Ask any teacher! This could have something to do with the Vitamin D hormone (yep, it’s a hormone, not a vitamin). This hormone is produced in our skin when the skin is exposed to the UVB radiation from the sun.
Scientists have yet to determine the numerous functions of Vitamin D in our bodies, but we do know that it is vital for bone health, development, calcium regulation, the immune system, general health, and… for the brain!
In fact, Vitamin D receptors are found throughout the entire central nervous system! I was amazed to learn that our bodies cannot produce neurotransmitters without Vitamin D. Could this be the happy we feel in the sun? Increased seratonin production, perhaps? It also increases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps with motivation and energy. Who doesn’t want more of that?
Interestingly, there is an extra twist to the equation. The production of neurotransmitters with the help of Vitamin D is mediated through the gut bacteria. The health of the gut bacteria affect the activity of Vitamin D receptors thereby turning the production of neurotransmitters up or down.
This means, therefore, that having adequate or optimal levels of Vitamin D is terrific, but not enough!
The health of our guts are part of this fascinating intricate puzzle! As we read in a previous post, happiness and clear thinking is in correlation with the gut microflora. Add Vitamin D, and voila! A super easy antidepressant and focus enhancer!
In addition to Vitamin D’s role in making neurotransmitters with the help of healthy gut bacteria, it is also needed for nerve growth, brain development, and neuroplasticity. So, if you want the brain of your child to develop optimally, Vitamin D is absolutely necessary.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. As research unveils the true importance of this impressive hormone, many ails will undoubtedly be connected to the level of this hormone. Years ago, when I was in dental school, I worked on the weekends and in the summer in a laboratory studying the importance of Vitamin D on bone growth. I couldn’t have imagined then the importance and wide ranging effects we now know. It is truly amazing. The future research is very exciting!
So, we know that lack of Vitamin D is involved in a whole host of health and brain issues, so the question then is how can you help increase your child's production of Vitamin D?
Sunshine is best. Twenty minutes, give or take depending on skin colour (lighter skin tones needing less) with 40% sunscreen-free skin showing at peak sun is optimal, but not always practical.
Sensible exposure to a UVB light (not the tanning salon UVA light) is the next best thing. Twenty minutes a day, give or take depending on skin tone, is all it takes. The lighter the skin, the less sun exposure is needed for optimal Vitamin D production.
The third, and least desirable option (but most available) is Vitamin D supplementation. Careful dosing needs to be taken into account because the hormone level can be thrown out of whack if too much is taken, or not enough. Unfortunately everyone is different in the amount needed. With the first two options, the body does all the calculating and optimizing. In the third, scientists and doctors feel they know a good range, but each individual should be tested through blood analysis to monitor levels and to find an optimal dosage. This too changes as the seasons and available sunshine change…but, well worth the effort.
Optimal Vitamin D levels are a game changer! It will give your child that extra boost to becoming happy, calm, focused, bright, immune to many diseases, and…