Vitamin D exerts many healing benefits relevant to people with spinal-cord injury/disease.
Although dermatologists advocate avoiding sunlight in order to prevent skin damage, a growing body of science suggests the sun exerts many healing benefits. Epidemiological studies indicate you are much more likely to die from disorders aggravated by chronic underexposure to the sun than disorders aggravated by overexposure.
Heliothertapy (sunlight) is emerging from the dark. There is simply too much evidence supporting its use to ignore.
Because it is fat soluble, excess sun-produced vitamin D is stored in body fat and, to some degree, can later be used in sun-deficient periods. No vitamin D is generated in short-daylight months above certain latitudes.
Relatively few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The most abundant are oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, or old-fashioned cod liver oil. Because of limited natural sources, numerous foods such as milk are vitamin-D fortified.
Many scientists believe humans need 1,000 international units (IU, a measure of vitamin potency) of vitamin D per day to avoid deficiency. A glass of fortified milk is about 100 IU. Full-body sunbathing for a period of time that will just make you turn pink will produce 10,000–20,000 IU of vitamin D. This is equivalent to 100–200 glasses of fortified milk.
People with SCI/D and multiple sclerosis (MS) often have decreased vitamin-D levels. Paralysis causes osteoporosis. As much as 50% of lower-extremity bone mass is lost during the first several years after injury; people with complete injuries lose the most. A deficiency in bone-enhancing vitamin D further aggravates an already serious SCI problem, in turn increasing fracture risk.
Dr. William Bauman (Metabolism 44(12), 1995; J Spinal Cord Med 28, 2005) believes SCI predisposes people to vitamin-D deficiency for several reasons. He speculates that due to limited mobility, someone with SCI may not get as much vitamin-D producing sunlight as the general population. Other scientists have demonstrated that pressure-ulcer-afflicted patients with SCI who have access to the least sunlight have the greatest vitamin-D deficiency.
Bauman also suggests a lack may be caused when healthcare professionals recommend reduced consumption of vitamin-D-fortified dairy products under the belief the calcium in such foods will aggravate kidney problems. And he believes many SCI-associated medicines reduce the body’s vitamin-D stores.
Evidence indicates that vitamin D enhances overall wellness. People with SCI are predisposed to diabetes, a disorder characterized by vitamin-D deficiency that experimental evidence suggests reduces insulin secretion. Vitamin-D deficiency is associated with an increased infection risk, again especially germane to infection-prone individuals with SCI, especially in this era of antibiotics resistance.
Excerpted from “Sunlight, Vitamin D, and Health,” Parts 1 and 2, PN June and August 2005. To read the full article, order these issues at 602-224-0500 or visit healingtherapies.info/sunlight &vitamind.htm.
Author’s Update (June 1, 2012): Although the skin-care profession advocates taking vitamin-D supplements instead of sun exposure, sunlight-generated vitamin-D is the most physiologically bioavailable. [Bioavailability is the amount of or rate at which a substance or drug is accessible to the body.] Many vitamin-D supplements are in a form that have questionable bioavailability or may have contaminates as a part of the production process.
An excellent resource for interested readers is the vitamin D email newsletter from the Vitamin-D Council (vitamindcouncil.org).