So it’s been made official. What we have all known for years (but felt too worried about skin cancer to say) – we need sunshine and too little of it can lead to illness, depression and disease.
In an interesting article in The Guardian recently, the details of a recent study were examined and the conclusions are that the UK and other northern countries get too little sunlight and so people make too little vitamin D and this affects their health in surprising ways. When you look at the people who flock to Lanzarote on holiday and who come to live here, it’s not surprising that so many are from the UK, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia where the winters are cold, long and dark and where the summers can be miserable and disappointing too. I’ve always known I wanted to live in a hot climate. I just feel my spirits lifted every day by the sunshine. The positive effect of our wonderful Canary Islands’ climate is a definite selling point for the many who come to enjoy its sunshine.
The Guardian article made a point I’d not seen made before. It said that the white skin of northerners (the northern hemisphere not people in Liverpool!) is almost certainly there to help us absorb more sunlight – when it does come out! As we all evolved from ancestors in Africa, we developed a pale skin colour to help us make the most of what sunshine there was. After a long winter, most people have used up the store of vitamin D their body laid down in the previous summer. We can only store it for 3 months so if you go longer than that without seeing the sun, you may need to take a supplement.
The report said vitamin D tablets can reduce high blood pressure and can be as effective as many prescription drugs. Almost everyone with high blood pressure had low levels of vitamin D. In fact, lack of vitamin D can lead to some cancers, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. It appears the argument about covering up your skin against skin cancer is winning in people’s minds and so even when the sun is out, many people don’t absorb the UV rays that help our bodies make vitamin D. You can add to this a generation of children who don’t play outside because of adult fears of ‘stranger danger’, lack of suitable parks or playing fields and a widespread fascination for TV or computer based entertainment. It’s not surprising this is becoming a problem
It seems that rickets, once a disease that we read about in history books or Dickens novels, has returned to the UK. One well-documented story saw the parents of a small child accused of child abuse, when in fact the child had rickets, possibly from birth, which had caused the fractures to his bones that his parents were wrongly accused of causing. His mother was vitamin D deficient and so is a huge 25% of the UK population. In many parts of the world, pregnant women are given vitamin D tablets to help with bone formation of the developing child but this is not common practice in much of Britain. Doctors are suggesting that the guidance given should emphasise the importance of sunshine and vitamin D supplements. Recent advice suggests a carefully monitored 10 minutes a day without cream to ensure we get our dose of sunshine.
We can’t all come and live on this beautiful island and I know we’re the lucky ones but it shows yet another health advantage of living in Lanzarote. It doesn’t stop us heeding all the concerns about over exposure to the sun and the risks it can cause but a little bit of sunshine seems to help us all. As I said, didn’t we already feel in our bones that this was true?