Wednesday, October 20, 2010

“Sunshine on my shoulders” in assisted living gardens

As with just about everything in life, moderation is key.
Television and magazine ads, the Internet and public health warnings have possibly scared Americans into over protecting themselves from the sun’s harmful rays, if not avoiding them altogether.
It is true that over exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays can cause many forms of skin cancer, but studies show that our bodies need the nutrient, vitamin D to stay healthy. When the sun's UV-B rays hit the skin, a reaction takes place that enables skin cells to manufacture vitamin D. Read about vitamin D atHospice Van Nuys for more information
Residents in independent and assisted living environments are encouraged to take short walks and spend time outdoors sitting in the warm, wonderful sun for short periods each day. The staff members know the importance of outdoor activities in relation to both the physical and emotional well being of their residents.
Given all the benefits of basking at least briefly in the summer sun, many experts now worry that the public health warnings about skin cancer have gone overboard in getting people to cover up and seek the shade.
U.S.News got in touch with Robyn Lucas, an epidemiologist at Australian National University who led a study published in the February issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology. Her finding: Far more lives are lost to diseases caused by a lack of sunlight than to those caused by too much.
Scientists now recognize that some sun exposure is important for health, at the very least, to maintain healthful vitamin D levels. Sunscreen blocks out nearly all UV radiation. Taking this into account, the Cancer Council of Australia has eased its sun protection message a little over the last few years and now recommends that if you're out in the sun for relatively short periods, with a UV index of less than 3, then sunscreen and other sun protection such as hats and protective clothing are not required. Beyond this, it is believed that we all need a little unprotected time in the sun during the middle hours of the day when the sun is at its highest and UV-B rays can penetrate the atmosphere.
Research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that those with the lowest vitamin D levels have more than double the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes over an eight year period compared with those with the highest vitamin D levels. The researchers cite "decreased outdoor activity" as one reason that people may become deficient in vitamin D.
In the future, Vitamin D deficiency in the elderly may become a strategy to prevent the development of depressive mood in the elderly and avoid its harmful consequences on health," the researchers wrote. "In addition, normalization of vitamin D levels may be part of any depression treatment plans in older patients."
The U.S. government's dietary recommendations are 200 IUs a day up to age 50, 400 IUs to age 70, and 600 IUs over 70. Many experts believe that these recommendations are far too low to maintain healthful vitamin D levels. They advocate for supplementation in the winter of about 2,000 IUs per day and a dose of daily sunshine in the summer.
Beyond bones. Vitamin D is best known for promoting bone health. It was first added to the milk supply in the 1930s to prevent the bone deforming disease rickets, and it defends against osteoporosis by triggering the absorption of calcium into bone cells. New evidence indicates that many people suffering symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia actually have a painful softening of the bones that is caused by a D deficiency.
The sunshine vitamin may protect against a host of diseases, including osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. Getting the proper exposure to sunlight has other hidden benefits such as protecting against insomnia and an overactive immune system.
Having too little Vitamin D also appears to cause the immune system to weaken. An immune system link might explain why the flu seems to strike only during the winter. A review of more than 100 studies on vitamin D and respiratory diseases, published in the current Epidemiology and Infection, found that low levels probably allow the viruses to penetrate the immune system. "It's the first comprehensive theory set forth to explain the seasonality of influenza," says vitamin D expert and lead author John Cannell, president of the Vitamin D Council and staff psychiatrist at Atascadero State Hospital in California. What's now needed, he says, is a trial to see if those exposed to flu viruses are less likely to come down with an infection if they take supplements.

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