The Scandinavian country of Norway sports the nickname “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” The appellation is appropriate because Norway—one of a handful of countries transcending the Arctic Circle–enjoys more than 20 hours of sunlight between late May and late July. During most of year, however, Norway’s denizens endure lengthy “vitamin D winters” – a season marked by the absence of sufficient ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to induce vitamin D production in the skin.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting the Land of the Midnight Sun. My trip commenced in Norway’s cultural capital city of Oslo and ended in Bergen, a charming town on a western fjord. Defying Norway’s frequent torrential rains and heavy cloud cover, the sun shone daily during my seven-day visit, facilitating outdoor exploration and affording me the opportunity to casually observe Norwegians’ reaction to the summer sun – nature’s gift of vitamin D.
Norwegians’ enthusiasm for the sun was palpable. After a cloudy morning in Oslo conceded to afternoon sunshine, people literally rushed to rooftop venues and open spaces to glean as much UVB as possible. The above photograph depicts sunbathers enjoying an August afternoon along the shore of Oslo Fjord.
As you know from reading my blog or my vitamin D book Defend Your Life, geographical location and weather conditions play important roles in the sunlight’s effectiveness to make vitamin D in the skin. Norway’s ultra-high-latitudes and inclement weather do not lend themselves to enriching its populous with vitamin D.
Norwegians nonetheless understand the importance of the sun’s health benefits and will go to great lengths to acquire sunlight. The small industrial town of Rjukan, nestled deep in a narrow valley in southern Norway, has never received direct sunlight between the months of September and March. Weary of long winter months filled with perpetual darkness, the sun-starved townspeople recently installed three huge mirrors (heliostats) to reflect direct winter sunlight into Rjukan’s main square. The computer-controlled mirrors are designed to automatically track the sun’s movements with the intent of casting a 2,000-square-foot “circle of light” on the town square. As Norway’s “vitamin D winter” soon approaches, we can think of Rjukan’s people in the heart of their town delighting in UVB rays kissing their skin.
Other Vitamin D Sources
Fortunately, additional vitamin D sources including wild-caught fatty fish, vitamin D3 supplements, and indoor UVB light are available year-round to Norway’s population.
Seafood consumption in Norway is relatively high compared to most countries. Norway boasts one of the world’s longest coastlines, stretching from the North Sea in the south to the Barents Sea in the Arctic region, and including some 50,000 islands. Its expansive shores yield plentiful vitamin-D-rich, fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, and mackerel.
Despite the availability of fresh fish, Norwegians reportedly eat too little seafood. The average seafood consumption is about half of the government recommendation of 100-150 seafood meals per year. Consequently, the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services issued an advisory in June 2013 for people to eat more seafood, citing the positive health benefits—including vitamin D—of fatty fish.
Vitamin D3 Supplementation
In Norway vitamin D3 supplements are widely available for consumption at retail and online stores. Earlier this year, the Norway Food Safety Authority recommended that Norwegians double their daily vitamin D intake from 400 (10mcg) to 800 IU (20 mcg). According to this government authority, the upper limit for vitamin D is 4,000 IU (100 mcg) a day for people above age 10 and 2,000 IU (50 mcg) for children ages 1 to 10 years.
Indoor UVB Light
Sunbed use in Norway has increased since 1980, according to a medical study published in an August 2013 online issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. In addition, incidence rates of cutaneous melanoma (CM) in fair-skinned people in Norway rank among the highest in the world. The authors of this study, conducted at Oslo University Hospital’s Institute of Cancer Research, sought to understand better the increased risk in CM. They examined a possible correlation, inter alia, between Norway’s overall high CM incidences and the increased sunbed use over the past the decades. The researchers established that CM cases are decreasing in Norway in men and women 50 years old or younger while sunbed use is increasing among the same age groups. Only persons older than age 50 saw an increase of CM diagnoses. The researchers surmised that further “work needs to be done” before knowing the overall health effects—positive or negative—of sunbed light exposure.
Quality of Life and Vitamin D
While researching content for this article, I learned that Norway leads the world with the best quality of life ranking, according to the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index.* Was I surprised? No.
Norway “gets” vitamin D. The Land of the Midnight Sun is replete with abundant vitamin D resources. When sunlight is unavailable, Norwegians implement technology to acquire the sun’s rays during dark winter months. The Norwegian government advises its people to double their vitamin D supplementation. Medical and scientific research conducted at Norway’s universities continues to shed light about vitamin D health benefits.
It’s no secret that attaining and maintaining adequate vitamin D levels are linked to improved quality of life. Defend Your Life explains how you can live healthier and longer with vitamin D – just like the Norwegians.
*The UN’s quality of life ranking comprises statistics about life expectancy, income, and education.
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