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In our country, a lot of sun, but little vitamin D: at least half of Spaniards have a deficit of this substance, essential for the proper functioning of our body. These are the data provided by different studies, one of the most complete carried out by the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences of the Faculty of Pharmacy of the Complutense University and published by Hospital Nutrition.
According to this research, in Spain, despite a theoretical climatological facility for the synthesis of vitamin D, our levels are similar, or even lower, to those described for Central Europe or Scandinavia. And although it is a problem that can affect us regardless of age or sex, few of the women who are around the stage of menopause get rid of it. Raise your hand if you turn 50 do not need to take a dose of vitamin D in pill form. "In reality," clarifies Dr. José Luis Neyro, specialist in Gynecology and Obstetrics and assistant at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences TecSalud of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, "above 40-45 years, vitamin D begins to stop being manufactured, for all people."
A very frequent problem, but also very rarely detected. So much so that "when symptoms appear it is usually after a long period of time suffering from the deficit," says Paula Sáiz de Bustamante, pharmacist expert in Nutrition and collaborator in the promotion of healthy habits of Juice Plus +.
The vitamin that no longer comes from the sun
Just exposing ourselves to the star king "10 to 15 minutes without protection at peak incidence about 3 times a week is enough to maintain vitamin D levels, although not to recover them if they are low," says Dr. Alejandro Cámara Balda, a member of the team of the Endocrinology Service of the San Pedro Hospital in La Rioja. "Logically, it is not the same in the south as in the north of Spain, if the day is cloudy or not, and it also depends on the body surface that is exposed, but in principle this recommendation is the one we should follow. In that period of exposure without cream there is no time for sunburn to occur or for other dermatological complications to appear."
So, how is it possible that in a country like ours, with more than 2,500 hours of sunshine a year, we lack precisely that vitamin? At the base of the answer, the great achievement of dermatologists in recent years: the use of creams with a high level of sun protection. Good for some things and not so much for others. "The apparent paradox may be due to the use of sun protection in summer or low exposure to radiation during winter," explain those responsible for the study from the Faculty of Pharmacy. In addition, "there are other factors, such as the high prevalence of overweight and obesity, which may also be related to the onset of vitamin D deficiency." Skin color also influences: the more melanin, the worse it is synthesized. That is, dark-skinned people have a harder time getting vitamin D from the sun than light-skinned people, although they in turn receive little because they protect themselves more.
As Cámara Balda points out, "everything is very debatable, but it is clear that we must increase unprotected sun exposure." A cream with an SPF greater than 8 eliminates 100% of the synthesis of vitamin D, clarifies the endocrine, "therefore, when we apply sunscreen we practically eliminate the possibility of producing this vitamin".
One more fact: the time at which we expose ourselves to the sun is also important, it is not the same to do it at three in the afternoon than at 9 in the morning. "Ultraviolet radiation, which is what causes vitamin D to be synthesized, is much lower in the early or late hours of the day," says Cámara Balda. Therefore, walking in the cool of the morning, often the only possibility of doing so with the torrid temperatures to which summer subjects us, does not help much either.
And in any case, it is not a matter of risking your skin or health in another way: "We do not say that you have to stop using sunscreens, but you do have to leave a little room for the body to synthesize vitamin D," concludes the expert.
A hormone or a vitamin?
We are rarely aware that we lack vitamin D, although when we start taking it in pill form we notice the results: we are in a better mood, less tired and more eager to face everyday situations that are uphill without a substance that many specialists consider actually a hormone and that acts in practically all organs and systems of the body. And that should be called hormone D or hormone complex D, say the researchers. "With the term vitamin D a historical mistake was made in the early twentieth century, in Wales. In this scenario, the doctors realized that the children who worked in the mine suffered from rickets, a disease that they associated with the lack of some vitamin. Therefore, they named it vitamin D. In 1920, German scientist Adolf Windaus discovered that it was actually a hormone. Some time later he received the Nobel Prize for discovering its molecular structure, "says Dr. José Luis Neyro from the National Association of Health Informants (ANIS).
The D, adds the doctor, influences "the bones, the pancreas, the cardiovascular system or the immune system and plays a key role in the absorption of calcium", and therefore in the good condition of our bones and muscles.
Signs of a Lack of Vitamin D
Although all the consequences of the lack of this hormone D are not yet known, it is known that its deficit "worsens the mineralization of the bones, which makes them more fragile and therefore can be broken more easily," says Dr. Cámara Balda.
The first signs that we lack come in the form of "muscle pain, weakness and pain in the bones in people of all ages," explains Paula Sáinz de Bustamante. "If we talk about children, muscle cramps can appear. Special attention should be paid to pregnant women, since if they suffer from this deficiency it could affect the future baby. On the other hand, young children with deficits usually take longer to walk, and may even present alterations in the development of the skeleton, "says the expert. And if it affects adults, they may feel "pain in areas that are affected, such as the spine or legs and be prone to fractures."
Sáinz de Bustamante insists that "menopause is another time of life in which vitamin D becomes very important, since a deficit of this substance, together with the lower production of estrogen, can affect the bones in a very negative way, among other problems". Osteoporosis would be the first consequence.
The 10 richest foods in vitamin D
Although to a lesser extent, vitamin D can also be obtained through the diet. In this case, the best way to do it is to resort to fatty fish. "If they were taken at least twice a week and in sufficient quantity, they would provide the necessary levels to avoid some type of deficit," says Paula Sáiz de Bustamante. "Mushrooms and mushrooms also contain a good amount of this vitamin, especially if they are exposed to the sun before cooking," he adds.
And we cannot forget the best ally of this vitamin, calcium, "a mineral that works as a team with it because it favors its absorption," says Sáiz de Bustamante. Among the foods rich in calcium, the nutritionist recommends dairy products and cheeses, sardines, broccoli and almonds.
In addition, these 10 foods are the ones that provide the most vitamin D to our body. It is no coincidence that almost all are blue fish, since these are the largest source of this vitamin, although "it can be lost if we cook them in a fatty medium or at a very high temperature," explain the nutrition experts of Vitónica. Thus, it is better to resort to raw, smoked or salted. Nutritionists recommend taking 10 g of this vitamin a day, except for those over 70 years of age, who should increase their intake to 20 g daily. Here is the top ten:
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