We had a Sunday evening tradition when the children were small – sitting down in front of the TV for tea. Crumpets, a freshly baked cake or scones and steaming cups of tea. How very British!
Trying to be the perfect mother (how times have changed!) I usually insisted we ate at the table, so Sunday tea was a novel treat. Trying to find a TV programme that we could all enjoy was a challenge, though – thank goodness for Meerkat Manor. If you’ve never seen an episode, this easy-going wildlife programme follows a family of meerkats through the ups and downs of living in the Kalahari Desert. Personalising each meerkat with a character and a name, we were drawn into this furry soap opera, the children fascinated by each story, although there was trauma and tears when danger and death reared its ugly head. Life lessons!
These funny little animals rise at dawn, then bathe themselves in sunlight after a chilly night in the desert. Stretching up, exposing their bodies to the sun, their faces radiated furry joy as they absorbed the warming rays of a sun bath. Suddenly, they darted off, fully energised, grubbing for a scorpion or sniffing out some other tasty bug for breakfast.
I may be slightly less furry, and not keen on eating bugs, but I do recognise the enjoyment of absorbing warming rays of sun. It seems to have been a long and dull winter, but now spring is here, I love getting outside, feeling energy-giving rays radiating through my skin deep into my cells, filling me with light. Even sitting at the station this morning, I sub-consciously stretched up meerkat-style, sheltered from the wind, basking in the warmth. Ever since our time living in India, I yearn for sunshine and feel great joy when I open the blinds in the morning and see blue sky, and an irrational sadness if clouds build up and steal it away.
The sun gives us so many things, vitamin D being one of them. This is an essential nutrient that humans mostly gain by exposure to sunlight. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, sunshine can be a rarity, or is not accompanied by enough heat to expose much skin! In the past, vitamin D has mainly been associated with bone health; rickets seen as the main problem if sun exposure is low or non-existant.
With our modern, mainly urban life we now tend to spend more time indoors than out. Research has revealed that vitamin D is needed for more than just healthy bones. Low levels are associated with a number of different health problems, including multiple sclerosis. Why is not clear, but there does seem to be a correlation with more cases of MS in the Northern and extreme Southern hemisphere than nearer the equator. And often people with MS turn out to be low in vitamin D.
If a blood test discover low levels, it’s easy to supplement. It’s been suggested that people with MS should aim for higher than normal levels too, because of the positive effect vitamin D has on the immune system. There doesn’t seem to be any major problems if you have high levels, so why not?
Anyone diagnosed with a chronic health problem is looking to find out why something has happened; if MS was definitely caused by low vitamin D levels, it would be easy to eradicate, but of course it’s not as simple as that. The root cause of MS is still unproven. And not everyone with MS automatically has low levels – me included. Due to my time overseas, I have pretty good vitamin D levels, so a deficiency is not the route of my autoimmunity.
Vitamin D is thought to help lessen some of the symptoms of MS, which is good news. And getting out in the sunshine is also good for mood; low mood and depression are common amongst people with MS, and although a bit of sunbathing is not going to suddenly cure this baffling and complex condition, sometimes the simple things can make a lot of difference.
So even though my levels are good, I still supplement vitamin D to keep them high, just in case. And I take every chance to tap into my inner meerkat and absorb those warming rays when they appear.
I can’t wait for the summer, when hopefully we will have many days of lovely vitamin D giving sun – although not a really hot one, as heat and MS don’t mix either, but that’s a post for another day!