Vitamin D is an important nutrient for our bodies, as it helps support our immune system, muscles and bone strength, and the functioning of our pancreas. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to many health issues, especially for those with black or brown skin.
Jacqueline Harvey began researching into Vitamin D back in 2010, when she was writing her book ‘Body Cycles’. It has been 10 years since then, yet there is still much confusion with regards to how much we need Vitamin D for our health, especially for people of colour living in the Norther hemisphere and their lack of exposure to the sun.
Vitamin D could be the secret essential hormone that we all need.
About Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an unusual nutrient that we can get from exposure to sunlight. We can get some Vitamin D from food, but in order to get the 210-290mm of energy, this must come from the sun between March and the end of September.
The process of Vitamin D is the same in human bodies, as it is with animals. UV rays hit the skin and starts to make Vitamin D. All Vitamin D is processed in the liver, and UVB is further broken down in the liver by enzymes to convert it to the active hormone. Vitamin D is not like Vitamin B or C as to all intents and purposes – it behaves more like a hormone.
This behaviour as a hormone is really important, however it is clear that the science industry does not fully understand how it really works as a hormone in our bodies, especially in the bodies of black people. Hormones are regulated within the Endocrine System in our bodies, which almost is like a second brain. Deficiency of this vitamin, or any hormones, will have a knock-on effect to other organs and even the brain. Therefore, there may be a link between thyroid function, sex hormone production and Vitamin D deficiency, especially in ethnic minorities.
Vitamin D is important for muscles and the skeleton, in order to make bones and muscles stronger, to prevent their deterioration, and to preserve their health. If we do not get enough Vitamin D, we can get osteoporosis and osteomalacia (which is the softening of the bone tissue rather than the brittling of bones). We may even develop rickets. Stress is another factor in developing these illnesses and many people do not understand that in winter when they have muscular pain that it is in fact osteomalacia, which is due to Vitamin D deficiency affecting the muscles.
Vitamin D and People of Colour
Generally, many people do not understand that they must go into the sun between March and the end of September. It is not an issue that can be pushed under the carpet – you cannot be healthy in the UK as a person of colour without going into the sun at this time of the year.
Sometimes this lack of exposure to the sun is a problem due to social and economic inequality – people of colour are usually in jobs that may not allow for much foreign travel or holiday, so they are not going into the sun enough to get a sufficient amount of Vitamin D.
Other issues relating to ethnic groups and immigrant populations is that they tend to be in low-paid jobs and working high amounts of hours, so do not have the time to sit in the sun for an hour a day. This particular population may also live in flats without gardens, as they may not be homeowners, and therefore cannot safely sunbathe in privacy or outside of their home.
Many societies operate colour discrimination, such as in parts of Asia, India, the Caribbean and Arab nations. In these cultures, the darker the skin colour, the less attractive you are. There are some people that would not like to darken their skin from sunbathing and so they cover up a lot in the sun, using large amounts of sun protection to prevent the skin getting darker.
Due to this colour racism operating in many cultures and religions around the world, it is important for black and brown people not to fear the darkening of the skin due to sunbathing. These people will suffer deficiencies that will have greater ramifications for their health and should be made aware of.
The relationship between Vitamin D and diabetes within Black and Asian cultures has not been communicated enough and this should form part of a public messaging campaign. Vitamin D controls the pancreas, which is responsible for the production of insulin and is a major factor in controlling diabetes. Therefore, it requires Vitamin D to do this work.
Public Health England now advise that we need Vitamin D all year around, with the daily requirement of around 400ius per day. However, if you spend time out in the sun from March to September, you do not need really need to supplement. This vitamin is essentially free from nature routed by the sun.
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