The “Sunshine Vitamin”

Posted on Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Bernard St-Laurent, journalist at CBC Radio One and moderator of the evening with panelists Dr. Richard Kremer and Dr. Hope Weiler. Missing is Dr. Beatrice Wang. / Photo courtesy of the MUHC.

Bernard St-Laurent, journalist at CBC Radio One and moderator of the evening, with panelists Dr. Richard Kremer and Dr. Hope Weiler. Missing is Dr. Beatrice Wang. / Photo courtesy of the MUHC.

By Margaux Delattre

Did you know that three minutes of exposure to the sun everyday is enough for your body to effectively synthesize Vitamin D? Or that tanning is not a sign of health but a skin reaction to the sun? And that lack of Vitamin D synthesis is a potential explanation for high rates of influenza infection during winter?

At a recent Café Scientifique, held by the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in collaboration with Radio Noon, CBC Radio One, I learned everything I possibly could about today’s “IT” nutrient—vitamin D. The event, which was held at the Café des Beaux Art on Sherbrooke, was attended by over 80 science aficionados wanting to get the facts on Vitamin D. Dr. Richard Kremer, Director of the Bone and Mineral Unit of the Research Institute of the MUHC, Dr. Beatrice Wang, Director of the Melanoma Clinic of the MUHC, and Hope Weiler, a dietician and member of Canada Research Chair in Nutrition, our three prominent specialists were there to explain the action of the nutrient. The goal of the Café Scientifique was to bring together citizens who are eager for scientific knowledge and the academic researchers who could provide it.

What exactly did I learn?

First, I had the opportunity to meet prominent scientists who were willing to share their knowledge and points of view. They were there to answer questions, and explain the in great detail, in laypersons’ terms, the topic at hand: vitamin D. I learned, for example, that this nutrient, also known as the “Sunshine Vitamin,” is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods so it is often added by food companies and is available as a dietary supplement. It is also formed when ultraviolet rays from the sun hitting the skin and activating Vitamin D synthesis. This nutrient is known to curb the effects of osteoporosis, prostate or breast cancer, depression, and even has certain positive effects on diabetes and obesity. Surprisingly, Vitamin D is possibly one of the most undervalued nutrients in the world of nutrition. This is most likely due to the fact that it is “free of charge,” i.e. one’s body synthesizes Vitamin D when sunlight touches one’s skin. So because no one can “sell” sunlight there are very few endorsements of its health benefits. For that reason, according to research from the University of Calgary, 97 per cent of Canadians are Vitamin D deficient.

During the Café Scientifique, I had just one thought on my mind: where can I buy Vitamin D supplements? But according to the specialists, humans can get enough vitamin D by simply eating well. Foods such as tuna, salmon or milk are great sources of Vitamin D, not to mention a three-minute daily dosage of sunlight!

Visit www.muhc.ca for up-coming Cafés.

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