Here Comes the Sun—With Vitamin D
Where to get your vitamin D. Plus, why you need to chase the kids outside, and preparing to say bye to your pet.
Dr. Joseph Andrews recommends that patients get their vitamin D from sources other than the sun. Photograph by Greg Sachs, www.gregsachs.com
Who says the sun is always bad for you? Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because sun triggers its production in your body. Vitamin D is needed mainly to maintain bone strength by helping the body to absorb calcium, which is especially important for growing children.
But researchers are finding that the vitamin has several other benefits: Diets high in D may ward off diabetes, gum disease, multiple sclerosis, rickets, and other neurological and immune disorders.
That doesn’t mean you should run out and start baking or let the kids play on the beach unprotected. Dermatology specialist Jules R. Fleischner of Atlantic Skin & Cosmetic Surgery Group and dermatologist Joseph Andrews of
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D varies with age, gender and general health. Most adults need about 1,000 units of vitamin D a day. The amount of sun needed to get the proper dose depends on a person’s skin type, where they live, time of year, and time of day the exposure occurs.
It is difficult for people living in northern climates like Delaware to get the sun during winter, but in summer, a fair-skinned person at the beach should get all the vitamin D they need in about five minutes. That’s the amount of time it takes the skin to turn slightly pink. Be careful: pink skin increases risk of skin cancer.
That’s why Andrews prefers his patients get their vitamin D from other sources. Fleischner suggests it is OK to take a 30-minute walk three times a week during sunlight hours, as long as the walker uses sunscreen with a protection value of 15.
Other good sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and fortified orange juice, a multivitamin, cod liver oil or tablets, and fatty fishes such as salmon, herring and sardines.
“It’s all about balance,” says Andrews. “Just like too much food can be harmful for your health, so can too much sun.”
Chase the Kids Outside
You played outdoors as a kid. So should your children.
Outdoor activity can help reduce the risk of obesity in children, which is one of the top 10 health issues at Rockland-based KidsHealth.org. The site is managed by The Nemours Foundation’s Center for Children’s Health Media.
One of the key factors for the dangerous rise is a trend of kids staying indoors, watching television or playing computer games, says Mary Lou Gavin, medical editor for KidsHealth.org and a pediatrician at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. “Our research is showing us that kids who are outside are less likely to be overweight,” she says.
One of the contributors to obesity and lack of outdoor recreation is over-scheduling children with after-school activities that may not include exercise.
“Scheduling time to be outdoors and exercise is going to have to become a priority for families, combined with healthy food choices, if we’re going to start seeing a decrease in this dangerous trend,” Gavin says.
Gavin suggests letting your children play outdoors for 45 minutes before they do their homework. Encourage organized sports or pick-up games, and make sure they play during recess. Let them help with yard work, such as raking leaves.
For safety, Gavin suggests that parents accompany children on bike rides and walks, or share the responsibility with the parents of neighboring children.
“If the parent is involved with leading this effort, it is more of a, ‘Do as I do,’ not a, ‘Do as I say,’ and the family will become more physically active. Mom and-or dad should suggest that the family all go for a quick hike after work and school, or go for a longer one during the weekend. Make it a family plan.”
Teenagers tend to be less active. If they are not into organized sports, parents need to suggest intramural programs or alternative sports like skateboarding, in-line skating, or mountain biking.
“Parents are going to have to take the lead on this effort by making going outdoors part of the family’s schedule after school and after work as much as they can,” Gavin says.
Goodbye, Old Friend
The death of a pet brings the same feelings of grief and despair as the death of a family member, especially among children, so it’s important to prepare.
Sudden death of a pet due to an accident is a shock, but more often, families must deal with a seriously ill or aging pet, which often makes euthanasia the inevitable choice for relieving the pet’s suffering.
“There is a tremendously strong bond between pets and their owners,” says Dr. James Foor, a veterinarian at Governors Avenue Animal Hospital in Dover. “But in the end, the most important thing for a pet who is seriously ill with cancer or who is extremely old with a host of health problems is to relieve that animal’s pain and suffering, and cherish their memory.”
Thoroughly discussing and weighing treatment or euthanasia options with a trusted veterinarian helps a family feel a part of the dying process and gives them a sense of peace with their decisions, Foor says.
In addition to preparing for a pet’s death, if a person can prepare for it, Foor recommends the following steps to help cope:
• If humane euthanasia is your decision, make peace with your choice.
• Organize and prepare a burial of the animal’s remains or its ashes to gain a sense of closure.
• Give your family enough time to grieve, especially if the death is sudden due to an accident or other unforeseen cause. Acknowledging and dealing with grief is important to healing.
• Don’t rush into getting another animal. This is especially true of retired couples who want to travel frequently or elderly couples who may have health issues.
Take time to determine what kind of pet you want. When you are ready, make a visit to the local SPCA, or visit a new litter of puppies or kittens. Chances are that, when you’re ready, that special four-legged creature will be waiting just for you.