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Shorter Days Shortchange Your Sunshine Vitamin

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I'm going to diagnose myself as a sufferer of early onset seasonal affective disorder. Early onset as in early in the day. Several times this week I've had to stop myself from climbing into my pajamas at 7 p.m. We changed our clocks back from Daylight Saving Time, and it's just after 4 o'clock and it's getting dark outside.

The only time I've ever appreciated this transition to shorter days was when my kids were babies. I was the Queen of Beddie-Bye. Back then, I actually looked forward to the early arrival of evening. It felt like Happy Hour. I remember sometimes having my three babes tucked into bed for the night by 5:10 p.m., the world record for overwhelmed moms.

But seasons change. As well as kid's bedtimes. Now that they are teens, every evening that is not followed by a school day is reason to become nocturnal. I had to text two of my "babies" (16 and 18 years old, respectively) at 10:50 p.m. saying "WRU" (teen parents already know this means "Where the %$#@& are YOU" in text-ese). Teenagers get a second wind at about 9:45 p.m., at which point I am two hours into full pajama mode, the slippers as well as half-glasses on, melatonin administered, teeth brushed and flossed and half-dozen anti-wrinkle creams applied. Let's just say I really don't need an extra hour of darkness anymore.

Speaking of darkness, we now have a very real health-related darkness problem. Since the advent of sunscreen usage, nearly 70 percent of Americans have developed a deficiency in Vitamin D, which we get from sun exposure. Additionally, there is a conclusive, growing body of evidence about the potential link between lack of Vitamin D and risk for certain cancers and diseases.

Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer (!!) as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease and more! This is especially a concern for people with black skin or people over the age of 70, neither of which convert vitamin D effectively.

The Canadian Cancer Society has gone so far as to issue a recommendation that Canadians consider adding a vitamin D supplement when Daylight Saving Time ends (and it is darker for a greater portion of the day).

You get your vitamin D from one of three sources: sunlight, fortified dietary foods, especially dairy products, some cereals and oily fish like salmon.

The radiation that converts vitamin D in the skin is the same wavelength that causes sunburn, so those of you who are religious about application of sunscreen (even if it's just 15 SPF!) can drastically impair vitamin D absorption.

If you live in the northern latitudes, there is not enough radiation to convert vitamin D into a usable nutrient, especially during the winter.

What to do? Check with your doctor first, but if you typically avoid sunlight exposure, research indicates a necessity to supplement with at least 5,000 units (IU) of vitamin D daily. The U.S. government recommends only 200 IU a day.

I believe that this is an outdated guideline that was based on Vtiamin D not being a water-soluable vitamin that could possibly build up in the body to toxic levels. This was prior to the sunscreen era. Tell me now that federal nutritional guidelines aren't in need of an overhaul.

To give you an idea of how much 5,000 IUs of vitamin D is, it is equal to 50 glasses of milk. With a multivitamin, that's more than 10 tablets.

The skin produces approximately 20,000 IUs of vitamin D from 20 to 30 minutes of summer sun exposure on your forearms and face -- 100 times more than the U.S. government's recommendation of 200 IU per day!

What to do? Get your vitamin D level checked at your next physical. It's a $20 to $30 test. Just don't load up on vitamin D because it still can be toxic at mega doses if you are not deficient.

Another negative aspect of earlier sunset is less exercise. Studies have shown that people exercise less when it's dark. I know I don't walk my dog if it's dark (I'm still scarred from a bad experience we had with a skunk). With 300 less hours of sunshine, we are all apt to move less and sit inside more.

Britain started a Lighter Later campaign after surveys found that people rated themselves happier and more energetic and called in sick less in the longer summer days than they did in the darkness of winter. According to a Cambridge University study, advancing clocks by an hour in the winter would lead to energy savings of at least 0.3 percent of daily demand in Britain.

Elizabeth Garnsey, one of the study's authors and an expert in innovative studies at Cambridge University, said this was equivalent to saving 450,000 metric tons of CO2 during winter alone. This much CO2 requires 2,000 acres of native forest to be reabsorbed.

What does all this mean? Push up your sleeves and get some sun when you are driving or eating lunch. Twenty minutes will be great but 10 minutes has benefits as well. Save some energy by turning off some lights or light some candles or a fireplace fire. Get over your Achluophobia by talking a moonlight walk.