Boost your vitamin D and health with a visit to the Algarve

Visitors are attracted to the Algarve for many reasons. The glorious weather is certainly one of them. Boasting more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually, the sun shines even in winter for an average of 6 hours each day.

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Whether you swim in the pool or lounge on the terrace, play some tennis or explore further afield on bike, there are plenty of opportunities to soak up some rays, and there is growing evidence that a healthy dose of sunshine is also good for both physical and mental well-being. Here we look at how a stay in the Algarve can provide you with more than just a healthy glow.

The sunshine vitamin

When your skin is exposed to sunshine, the ultraviolet light triggers the production of vitamin D. Often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” there are few food sources rich in vitamin D, so the main way to absorb it is through exposure to sunlight. However, a deficiency in vitamin D is on the rise, with those affected becoming vulnerable to a range of health problems.

It has long been known that Vitamin D is essential for bone health, helping to prevent rickets in children and to ward off osteoporosis as we age. It is now increasingly clear that this vitamin also plays a key role in many other functions. Not only is it involved in the control of cell growth and inflammation, but it is also important for immune, muscle and nerve function, It’s no surprise that a deficiency has been linked to increased risk of certain cancers as well as diabetes, autoimmune and neurological disorders.

The links between vitamin D and health

While further research is still needed, studies have shown the vitamin to have a protective effect against colon cancer – now the third most common cancer worldwide.

Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis are conditions in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, and both conditions are more commonly found at higher latitudes. This suggests that a lack of vitamin D may be implicated in their development. Indeed, a deficiency has been linked both to the development and the progression of these auto-immune disorders.

Vitamin D deficiency is also common among people with epilepsy, but recent work has shown that supplementation with the vitamin significantly reduces the frequency of seizures. This finding brings hope for those with epilepsy and other neurological conditions, as correcting the deficiency can help to improve both health and quality of life.

Reducing the risk of deficiency

Spending too little time outdoors is one of the main factors leading to vitamin D deficiency. It has also been suggested that overzealous use of sun screening and blocking products, due to fears of skin cancer, is another. Using factor 15 actually absorbs 99% of the UV light that reaches us. While no one is suggesting that sun cream should not be applied when spending time outdoors in the sunshine, just 10 to 15 minutes in the sun without sun cream should be enough to meet most people’s vitamin D requirements.

A boost to mental well-being

Lack of vitamin D has been specifically linked to depression, and spending time in the sun is thought to benefit our mental health in a number of other ways. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – a form of low mood that may affect as many as 10% of people during the winter – is believed to be due to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shortening days. This change brings about reduced levels of serotonin, a natural brain chemical that triggers pleasurable feelings.

Light therapy is the treatment commonly used for SAD, but at least an hour of sunlight each day provides a natural alternative, and a winter break to sunnier climes offers a good option for those affected. Regular time spent in the sun also helps you to sleep better, an important factor in promoting mental well-being. Exposure to natural light reduces daytime levels of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, so you are less likely to feel tired during the day. If you still feel tired when you wake after a good night’s sleep, spending some time outdoors in the morning is the best way to signal to your body that it is time to be alert.

While regular sun exposure appears to benefit all-round health, a week or two at AlmaVerde can help boost your well-being as well as encouraging you to adopt a routine of spending time outdoors each day once you return home.

Julie Turner
August 2013

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