If you’re living in northern Europe like me, or somewhere else in the world along a similar line of latitude, say, Boston or New York, have you noticed that your health and wellbeing immediately seems to improve when you go head closer towards the equator?
Maybe you notice a positive difference when the summer months creep in? Maybe your hair, skin and nails grow better, you have more energy, and maybe even your chronic illnesses such as IBS, hypothyroidism, arthritis, asthma etc improve significantly. Conversely, you may also find that as the autumn turns into winter you find yourself feeling a bit worse for wear.
If you don’t experience what I’m talking about, I’m willing to bet there’s a high chance your ethnicity is indigenous to the north western hemisphere.
For the rest of us though, could it be that our genotype and phenotype does not thrive during these cold, grey months? As genetic anthropology would have it, the answer is YES.
When we were born, regardless of where we were born, our bodies were designed to best withstand the environment of which our genetic origin came from. In other words, if you are someone of African origin, your genes are programmed to help you thrive the most in your native setting. Evidence of this is most immediately seen in your skin tone.
You may be familiar with the fact that the reason why you have a darker skin tone, is to protect you from burning under your native country’s scorching sun. Essentially, there is a built in protective adaptation in place. This isn’t JUST to protect you from burning. The darker, thicker skin you possess enables you to protect your folate (vitamin b9) from being destroyed by the sun’s strong UV rays which are typical as you get nearer to the equator.
Folate is an extremely important nutrient which plays an integral role in brain function, mood regulation, bone, skin, hair and muscle development, energy regulation and most importantly, the synthesis and repair of DNA.
This is why fair skinned people need to use sunblock religiously and avoid sun burns, as one of the consequences of sunburns is DNA damage. Their genetics are designed for them to thrive in environments like the Tundra, which is typically characterised by cold and grey weather.
Darker skinned people on the other hand, require great amounts of sunlight all year round just to maintain good health. The darker you are, the more melanin you produce. The more melanin you produce, the more sunlight you need to absorb from the sun in order for your skin to produce sufficient levels of vitamin D.
Everybody needs to have good vitamin D status, but it is without question that darker populations require far greater amounts of it, just to maintain good overall health. Vitamin D contributes to good nails, skin and hair health, of course. However, it is WAY more than that. Vitamin D looks very similar to a hormone under a microscope, and has important regulatory roles on the immune, digestive, nervous and skeletal system. A long term deficiency of vitamin D can lead to serious health problems, which a lot of darker skinned populations who live outside of their intended latitude levels meet.
There is an increasing prevalence and incidence of asthma, eczema, allergies, cardiovascular disease, cancer, IBS, autoimmune and hormonal issues such as PCOS, PMS, thyroiditis and parathyroiditis because of an overwhelming prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK. Not to mention depression, anxiety and more serious forms of mental illness.
While there is a growing awareness of vitamin D deficiency and some GPs are taking steps to diagnose and support this problem, it still largely goes unnoticed and quite often a health problem which has resulted from this deficiency, has already arisen. This results in people being on a pharmacy of strong medications all of their lives, which presents a whole myriad of problems due to the chemical effect of biogenic amines from the medications, as well as their heavy metal content. Some of these medications themselves, such as corticosteroids for asthma and eczema actually deplete vitamin D and other nutrients, causing bones to weaken, which pushes some individuals further down the spiral of poor health.
In short, the consequences of long term deficiency of vitamin D3 can be pretty serious and this problem needs to be addressed by everyone, especially if you know your origins come from elsewhere.
So, what can we do?
Some foods like chicken, beef, eggs, dairy and lamb offer a good amount of vitamin D which can be well absorbed by the body. Vegan sources like mushrooms and tofu contain vitamin D although absorption efficacy is questionable.
In any case, even with a fantastic diet, most individuals living in the UK will need to supplement in addition to their diet, as the required levels for good health far exceed what you can absorb from food. A trip to your GP can solve this for you, as they can test for vitamin D levels relatively easy (if your doctor is a prick and won’t cooperate, there are many private companies offering very reasonably priced and easy vitamin D tests which cost around £24-40). They can also prescribe a high dose vitamin D supplement which you will need to take on a regular basis.
It is important to note that when you DO take a vitamin D supplement, that:
a) you do so with a meal which contains a source of FAT, as vitamin D is FAT soluble (you won’t absorb it very well otherwise)
b) you combine it with vitamin K2, as high amounts of vitamin D supplementation can lead to kidney stones. You can get vitamin K2 from egg, fermented soy, cheese and dark chicken meat, however you can also get this in supplement form, which you can combine with your vitamin D supplement.
PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE YOU TAKE ANY SUPPLEMENTATION, PARTICULARLY IF YOU HAVE HEALTH CONDITIONS AND/OR TAKE MEDICATION.
Alternatively, it is ABSOLUTELY safe (unless you have received medical guidance which says otherwise) to obtain your vitamin D from the sun. In fact, this is the ideal and quickest way to replenish your stores. What you must be aware of however, is that the darker you are, the longer you will need to spend in the sun, especially during wintertime and/or if you are in the northern hemisphere.
Additionally, your body is able to store sun derived vitamin D for up to a month, which might tempt you to book more frequent sun holidays, perhaps? What better excuse for taking more frequent trips to the beach 😍