I continue to be out and about even now, as a middle-aged, balding, grey-bearded, good for nothing. And, yes, under the blazing sun, I continue to add to my melanin-rich pigmentation. It is mid-summer and am already gloriously two-toned; the skin where the sun doesn't shine looks strikingly different from the rest.
Through all this, I am also helping my body produce a whole lot of vitamin D.
Years ago, I read that vitamin D is more than a mere vitamin. It is like a hormone that regulates a whole bunch of biochemical processes in our bodies. While we usually associate vitamin D with bone growth and strength, it is way more than that.
Since then, every visit to the old country, I have bugged my mother and aunts about the importance of spending a few minutes walking under the sun's light and heat. But, hey, you know the story of my life--nobody listens to me. Not even my mother!
I bugged them because by then I had started connecting a few dots through the sun-exposure and vitamin D links. Typically, the older women in the extended family and in society had more bone-related structural problems, which the older men did not seem to suffer from as much. (Of course, women also seemed to outlive men, but I was not doing any controlled scientific study.) I began to wonder if the old country's fascination with lighter skin along with the restrictions on women's movements contributed to this health hassle that resulted from lack of exposure to the sun.
If that is the case, my logical mind suggested that such problems should be equally intense in many of the Middle East countries, where women are not exposed to the sun thanks to the layers of clothing and the restrictions on them.
I tell ya, there is always something happening inside the shiny dome of mine! ;)
Therefore, every time I read essays like this, I am not surprised one bit:
Vitamin D deficiencies are widespread, with around one billion people, from all age groups and ethnicities, suffering from them, even in countries with year-round sunshine. Indeed, they are particularly common in the Middle East, owing partly to the prevalence of skin-covering clothes and a cultural habit of staying out of the sun. That same habit, together with darker skin, contributes to lower levels of vitamin D among Africans.
"So how much vitamin D do we need to reap its disease-fighting rewards?"
This, too, is an important question. A few years ago, after the routine lab tests during the physicals, the doctor said I was deficient in vitamin D and he prescribed a dose of pills. He wanted me to check in with him after three months. I never did. Because, as much as I believe in the importance of the hormone like vitamin D, I am equally convinced that too much of a good thing can be harmful--especially when it is an artificial intake via pills. It is one thing to increase vitamin D intake through walking on sunny days, or through milk and yogurt consumption. But, pills?
Which is why this doctor always recommends walking. Early morning sun is best--when it is not too intense. Come to think of it, I suppose I am prescribing nothing but a variation of the old traditional life--get up in the morning, walk to the temple, where you walk some more within the walls but under the sun, and then walk back home and have some yogurt. Plenty of sun and walk to start the day.
But then, nobody listens to me! ;)