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The benefits of Vitamin D and sunshine

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Woman in sun
Even though it's still cold, the sunny weather and blue skies we've been experiencing make a real difference to how we feel. And it's no wonder, because sunshine doesn't just boost your mood, it provides the body with vitamin D and, in a new breakthrough, scientists are saying that it also boosts your immune system.

It's well known that vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption and bone health and some studies have suggested it even has an anti-cancer effect, by playing a key role in activating white blood cells that protect the body from flu and cancer.

Scientists have also discovered that vitamin D plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system. This is because vitamin D triggers dormant white blood cells to find and destroy infections. At the same time, other white blood cells turn into 'helpers' that enable the immune system to build a 'memory' of the infection, so it can react more quickly if or when it happens again. This discovery is important as it could help in the development of vaccines for auto-immune diseases and cancer.

The sun provides most of the body's vitamin D because it forms under the skin in a reaction to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. You can get the majority of the vitamin D your body needs simply from eating a healthy diet and getting a little bit of sunshine.

Why do I need vitamin D?
Vitamin D keeps the levels of calcium and phosphorous in the blood normal. It also helps the body absorb calcium, which is needed to keep bones strong and healthy. And, if new research from a King's College, London, study is to be believed, it could be slowing down the ageing process. Their research found that people with higher levels of vitamin D showed fewer ageing-related changes in their DNA.

Vitamin D could also protect against heart attack and strokes, according to the Framingham Heart Study, which found that those with low levels of vitamin D in their blood were twice as likely to suffer heart failure, a heart attack or a stroke.

If you're pregnant, your baby needs vitamin D to help prevent rickets and seizures and in winter, you may not be getting enough exposure to sunlight to give your body enough.

How much do I need?
You don't need it every day as your body will store vitamin D for when it needs it. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding doctors advise you should take 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D every day. Otherwise, eating a varied diet that includes fish, eggs and fortified cereals will give you all you need, so try eating at least one meal a week containing these foods.

What happens if I don't get enough vitamin D?
Your bones could become brittle and thin and stop growing properly. Teeth may also grow badly and be weak. Lack of vitamin D is also thought to be responsible for the increase in colds and flu in the winter months. Serious vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets, a disease, which causes bones to grow softened and deformed. The disease had virtually disappeared, but new cases have recently been identified in Dundee.

What happens if I get too much vitamin D?
Too much vitamin D can be toxic. It can lead to hypercalcemia, which is when there's too much calcium in the blood. The result in severe cases can be kidney stones and kidney failure.

What food is it in?
According to the Food Standards Agency, oily fish, such as sardines, herring, salmon and tuna, eggs, milk, margarine and liver are the main sources of vitamin D in food.

Try our quick and easy recipes rich in vitamin D
Superfood salmon stir-fry
Salmon fish cakes with tarragon
Salmon and egg pancakes
Salmon and parmesan fishcakes
Salmon and dill fishcakes
Island pie
Mini fish pie faces
Puff pastry fish pie

Find out more about how Vitamin D can help with Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Will you try eating more oily fish to help stop the ageing process? Tell us what you think in Chat

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Monika Lee

Please be aware that the symptoms of a Heart attack are not always as obvious as you described. I had not felt well for a few weeks, felt very tired and could not lay down as I found it difficult to breath, I got the shakes, after sitting down for 30 minutes I felt better. Then one morning I had the same symptoms again only this time they would not go away, I even tried laying in the bath, as I thought it was stress related, I suppose it almost felt like a panic attack. After what seemed ages I realized I was going into a tunnel,I managed to phone my GP, as I had already rang them that morning to cancel my doctors appointment, as I did not think I could get to my surgery. Luckily I had, as it was all I could do to press the redial button. An ambulance came out, despite their blood test, which showed there was plenty of oxygen in my blood they thought I had had a panick attack or toxic shock syptoms. One of the ambulance crew was not happy and decided that I should go to hospital "just to be sure". This time I did notice that I felt pressure on my left shoulder going into my left boob. Any way I was taken to A & E where the specialist decided that it was most probably just a panick attack brought on by stress. They asked me to stay for a few hours to let things calm down. Luckily they did, within one and half hour I was having a massive heart attack, which only showed up on their machines, I was admitted and put in to the Intensive care unit, where I had a further 3 attacks over as many days. In short they saved my life as the symptoms were exactly the same as they had been when I was at home, only more powerful with each attack. The ambulance crew came to see me the next day and could not believe that I was having a heart attack as they were sure I was not presenting the "normal" symptoms. My message in short is always get things checked out even if you have to insit. If they had left me at home that day I would not be here now.

emily

this website is fantasic, it has really helped thank you

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