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Eat the Sun


The Oyster mushrooms in the hash this week have been “activated.”  I sunned them gill side up, for a couple hours to facilitate vitamin D metabolism post-harvest. Mushrooms uniquely have ergosterol in their cell walls which operates similarly to cholesterol in animals, converting UV radiation from the sun into vitamin D2 (along with small amounts of  D3 and D4). Oyster mushrooms have particular talent at sequestering this vitamin, synthesizing double the amount as shiitakes at the same exposure time, producing up to 140 μg/g.  Mushrooms can be dried and stored post vitamin D activation for up to 8 months, retaining their nutrient power. You can also work this trick on any store bought shrooms, which generally receive very little sunshine in the climate controlled dark warehouses where they are grown. Take them home, flip them gill side up and sun them for at least 60 minutes during peak sun hours (11-2 PM), et voila, enhanced shroomies! Slicing to increase the surface area also amplifies the vitamin D generated. 

Now is the time to pay attention to your vitamin D intakes! Widely studied and highly recommended, vitamin D plays an active role in immunity and has been strongly linked to COVID-19 protection. We’ve been blessed with the sun’s kiss all summer, and for many 20 minutes in the sun daily with 40% of your skin exposed, will take care of vitamin D needs. This fun fact comes with some caveats though. Sunscreen with a factor of 10 reduces vitamin D synthesis via the skin by 90%!  Additionally, after fifty, our body’s ability to manufacture it from the sun decreases, and a shocking  61% of U.S. elders are deficient. Now as we enter the darker months, it’s critical to either get your vitamin D through diet or supplements, especially in the Northeast.  Another sneaky source is pasture raised pork fat, a.k.a. lard., key words "pasture raised," since the pigs must be in the sunshine to synthesize their own vitamin D. If you’re not eating liver, oily fish, sunshine lard, activated mushrooms, or fortified foods on the regular I’d recommend a supplement. I take one as extra insurance and ever since I started several years ago, I get sick way less frequently in the fall and winter. Generally speaking, D3 (from animal sources) has been shown to be more potent than D2, though if you’re a staunch vegetarian, D2 may have to suffice. 

Vitamin D is crucial for strong bones, long understood as protection from osteoporosis.  An easy trick to tell if you’re low is to push on your shin with your thumb. If it’s tender, your bones may be on the softer side, indicating you need more of this nutrient. Bones aren’t it though---vitamin D receptors are also found in most cells throughout the body, affecting a wide range of endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune functions. Three quarters of the U.S. have suboptimal levels, not quite deficiency, but low enough to set the stage for possible long term health consequences. Low vitamin D levels are linked with diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, depression and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

As always, the scientific community is not a united front on all of the above. There's controversy about how we measure vitamin D status and the studies correlating low levels to all of the above health issues (except for bone health and immunity) have conflicting evidence. We're only beginning to understand with microscopes what we've known for a long time. The sun is healing; foods and people  grown outside seem better off. 

It’s obviously PSA season. Go vote, eat your sunned mushrooms, and maybe some fish liver too. Strong bones and strong immune systems will keep us in fighting shape for the election scaries. Boo!

Radiolab put out a neat story on vitamin D and COVID-19 this past summer, called "Invisible Allies," I thought was worth sharing. Also, for perspective from the podcast, All my Relations, on the conundrum of voting as a native person within a political system that continuously erases you, see "Vote (if you can and want to)."