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Don’t shun sunshine Vitamin

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While most of us avoid the hot sun at noon, we deprive ourselves of ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ or Vitamin D which is at its peak during that time of the day. In an interview with the Sunday Island, Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute (MRI) and President of the Sri Lanka Medical Nutrition Association (SLMNA), Dr. Renuka Jayatissa throws light on the latest research which has unearthed new knowledge about this natural nutrient boosting our immunity which we often take for granted.

by Randima Attygalle

Known as ‘Sunshine Vitamin’, Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D also functions as a hormone and every body cell has a receptor for it. Sun exposure at mid-day (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, says Head of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute (MRI), Dr. Renuka Jayatissa. “Although morning sunlight was traditionally believed to be the best source of vitamin D, new knowledge confirms that 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to midday sun is the best time to make use of sunshine. The exposure becomes even more important as dietary intake of vitamin D is not sufficient.

The findings of local research speak for the changing nature of vitamin D intake, contrary to the popular belief that those from tropical nations are the most benefitted by this nature’s panacea. While the population from the Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces are the most vulnerable to the deficiency due to the climatic patterns, the North Central Province is the least vulnerable given the hot climate of the region and the agrarian lifestyle. “The findings also reveal that 50% of adolescents of the country and nearly 95% of women are vitamin D deficient. This situation is alarming as it is a precursor to a host of other health issues including immunity problems, loss of bone density and muscle weakness,” explains Dr. Jayatissa who warns that COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation with restricted movement and children being home bound.

The vitamin D intake from the sun depends on the degree of exposure to sunlight. “If you wear long sleeved shirts/ blouses and trousers, it is most likely that you will get only about 10% of exposure with only your face and neck exposed. However if you wear a short-sleeved shirt/blouse and a mid-length skirt or a frock, you will get about 30% exposed,” points out the physician. “What is recommended is about 10 to 15 minutes of exposure daily. However, overweight people and those with a darker skin complexion will require more. While peak period is between 12 noon to 1 p.m. in the afternoon, ironically this is the time that most Sri Lankans tend to avoid the sun, given the humidity of the environment, says Dr. Jayatissa.

“The school interval is limited only to half an hour and this too during mid-morning. As most children may take their first meal for the day during the interval, there is hardly time for play,” observes the nutrition specialist. Recommendations have already being made to the School Committees of the Education Ministry to give children another mid-day break so that they are exposed to the peak period of sun, says Dr. Jayatissa. “Vitamin D is crucial for children on the threshold of puberty (10-15 years) as it affects growth and immunity.”

The rising elderly population in the country too calls for interventions to mitigate vitamin D deficiency as fractures are a common repercussion. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density which in turn can cause osteoporosis and fractures. “With the elderly population multiplying in years, disability will be an added burden,” warns Dr. Jayatissa. Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and bone metabolism. Low bone density results in loss of calcium and other minerals in bones. Older adults, especially women are at an increased risk of fractures due to this.

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency are many. Besides lack of exposure to sunlight, having dark skin, being overweight or obese, being elderly, lack of dairy and fish in diet, excessive use of sun screen are among them. “Obesity is a risk factor for the deficiency as increased fat cells in the body require larger doses of vitamin D,” observes the physician who goes onto note that lifestyle patterns too trigger the condition. “Although those who live far from the equator are traditionally considered to be lacking vitamin D, their understanding of this drives them to be exposed to the sun as much as possible. Walking or cycling to work, walking to a cafeteria, traveling to tropical regions during summer etc. push them to bridge the gap. Ironically in our part of the world, apart from farmers and other workers such as those in the construction industry and the manual labour force, people are deprived of sun exposure.”

Since symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often subtle, many people will not realize that they are lacking it. “However this could affect the quality of life,” remarks Dr. Jayatissa. Height gain is seriously threatened by the condition, she says. “Compared to taller communities such as the Dutch whose average height for males is about 180 cm, Sri Lankan average height is about 168 for men and 153 for women. This may even decrease in time to come, unless the situation is urgently addressed”. Sun exposure as the vitamin D booster cannot be undermined, especially because very few foods such as fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and fortified dairy and grain products contain vitamin D, notes the nutrition specialist.

Keeping the immune system strong is one of the key roles of vitamin D. During the pandemic, this becomes even more valid as a strong immune system can fight off viruses and even bacteria that cause illness. Studies have confirmed that vitamin D can reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections. “Migraines in young people could also be a cause of the deficiency and muscle cramps in the night among the elderly could also be a strong symptom,” points out Dr. Jayatissa. Bone and back pain, impaired wound healing and even low moods are among the other symptoms.

Certain studies have also found that vitamin D can help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. While sunshine can do wonders to your skin and body, too much of it can be risky, points out the physician. “Sun spots as a result of sunburn, skin aging, heat stroke and skin cancer are among them.” Administering vitamin D supplements should always be done on clinical advise as vitamin D toxicity entails its own dangers, concludes Dr. Jayatissa.



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“ForHer” campaign for breast cancer awareness

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As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Street Burger -home of Sri Lanka’s original gourmet burger-, launched its inaugural annual “ForHer” initiative, in collaboration with the Indira Cancer Trust and Suwara Arana -the first paediatric palliative care centre in Sri Lanka. The campaign kicked off on the 1st of October, and for the entire month the restaurant chain committed to donating a portion of every order placed at its outlets towards breast cancer research, medication, and support.

The ForHer campaign was initiated with the intention to not just raise funds, but also increase awareness on breast cancer – the most common type of cancer among females in Sri Lanka-, with the aim to also create a real and tangible impact on how we can steer conversations on the disease to the focus. Throughout the month of October and at all of its outlets –Bambalapitiya, Ethul Kottte, and Mt.Lavinia-, employees wore the iconic pink ribbon as part of their uniform, and all Street Burger customers were given the opportunity to participate and support this health campaign just by purchasing a meal.

“The statistics on breast cancer in Sri Lanka are alarming,” said Mafas Saheer, Operations Manager of Street Burger. “The launch of our ForHer campaign was our way of honouring the women in our communities, and doing our part to provide as much support as we can by raising both awareness and funds for the cause.”

Although launched to coincide with “Pink Ribbon Month”, Street Burger hopes to keep the campaign going well beyond October, with more initiatives to educate and engage its customers and the public for the benefit of all women in Sri Lanka.

Born from humble beginnings from a food truck on Marine Drive, but bolstered by a passion for innovation and love for burgers, Street Burger has now cemented for itself a reputation as the pioneers of gourmet burger culture in Sri Lanka. Street Burger sources the freshest premium-quality ingredients for the preparation of its intensely flavoursome and wide range of signature hand-crafted burgers, fries, and shakes – all made in-house; contributing to the ultimate gourmet burger experience. The brand now operates from three dine-in outlets across Colombo: Bambalapitiya, Ethul Kotte, and Mt. Lavinia.

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Top bridal designer of today

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Indi’s bridal designs design are renowned for its distinctive use of colours, quality of fabrics, intricate embroideries and a glorious rich Sri Lanka culture.Indi is included in the list of best Sri Lankan bridal designers and she is one designer who is acknowledged on the international pedestal for her different and unique designs of bridal ensembles. Her designs are elegant, her taste heavily inspired by local culture

Indi’s reimagination of traditions and styles is what sets her apart. And rightly so according to her the quintessential Indi’s bride is the one who’s self assured, highly confident and well aware of the craft and art.

A bridal attire is no charm if it is not designed under the signature label of popular designers. Indi is one designer whose collection provides ease with style. She creates magic when she puts together her mind and creativity to design any bridal attire.

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To the Ends of the Earth

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by Rajiva Wijesinha

Before the recent publication of Off the Beaten Track, Godage & Bros in this same year produced To the Ends of the Earth, yet another book by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha about his travels in exotic places.

That earlier book looked at four continents, North and South America, Africa and Asia but, as the title indicates, it was about the lesser known extremities of those areas. Beginning with Brazil, the book explores seven countries in South America, and also Mexico and three other countries in Central America along with three in the Caribbean. The travels there began in 1986 and concluded in 2019 with a journey to Bolivia.

That first visit hooked him as it were with the range of people and places he saw, for Brazil ‘struck me not as a melting pot, where everyone strives to settle within particular confines, but rather as a sort of fondue, where individual fiavours can be retained, while a common thread that provides reassurance adheres to each segment.

Being in effect a continent rather than a country does help. There is room for the Teutonic farmers of Rio Grande do Sul, with their expansive ranches and the fabulous churrascarias where one can pig oneself on all sorts of meats cooked in all sorts of ways, while animated conversations, characteristically Latin one would say, flow from all the tables around one; the blacks can have their energetic carnivals in Salvador, only to be outdone by the range of races in Rio who have made a multi-ethnic version of that art form emphatically their own; the mestizos, initially those of mixed American Indian and white blood, grow increasingly darker as one moves northward, and one finds too groups of oriental Indians and Chinese, adding their own characteristics to the mix; while out in the Mato Grosso and the Amazon areas to the west, pure Indians still live, some with lifestyles just the same as those their ancestors had practised for generations before Columbus sailed. ‘

In Peru and Ecuador he found fascinating the blend of Indian art and Christian imagery, the San Ignacio Chapel in Arequipa, decorated by a devoted Indian artist in murals that recreated the delicate plumage of tropical birds, in natural dyes that had survived over two hundred years, later the statues and pillars in many churches in Quito, the exciting capital of Ecuador.

But what entranced above all in this continent was the magnificent civilization of Aztecs and Incas and above all the Mayas. In Mexico he had a glimpse of a continuity of culture when at the great pyramids of Teotihuacan he came across a ritualistic dance, hundreds of young men dressed in evocative traditional costumes, headbands and elaborate cloaks, bare strips of cloth at the waist and intricate leggings, moving or rather stamping energetically in a complex rhythm, up and down, forward and back, persistently, powerfully, to the relentless beating of drums. They continued while he climbed up the pyramids of both the Sun and the Moon, and were still at it when he got back, an absolutely breathtaking sight, close up as well as from the heights that placed the pattern in even more vivid perspective.

And then there were the Mayas, the Temple of the Magician at Uxmal, a pyramid that somehow also had an oval shape, that took his breath away. That motivated another visit, this time to Guatemala, where a helpful consul at the border let him in without a visa to see the great complex at Tikal, deep in the jungle, which he wandered through on his own, to the sounds and sights of exotic birds, toucans and coucals and the colourful Peten turkey.

There were also other sorts of jungle adventures, jumping into the confluence of the two rivers that make up the Amazon at Manaos, fishing for piranhas for supper in the Kumaseva river near Iquitos in Peru, walking in the jungle there while his guide swung on lianas Tarzan fashion in dripping rain.

There are jungle trips in Africa too, crowded safaris in Tanzania and Uganda, tailor made trips in Mozambique and Angola, which allowed for lingering over glorious sunsets over river and sea. More unusual were the religious fantasies of Ethiopia, what was supposed to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba at Axum, the Debre Dammo monastery which had to be reached by climbing a rope, which he was dissuaded from trying to do, a long trek up a steep hill to see the Mariam Korka church, an impressive small building with wonderful paintings on its walls, and its neighbour the Daniel Korka church which required slithering along an open cliff.

There were too the fantastic rock hewn churches of Lalibela, and the monasteries nearby, one a long cave under a rocky ledge, with pilgrims clad in white and swaying gently to the relentless gentle rhythm of wonderful chanting. And there were beautifully illustrated bibles, which the priest held open for inspection without allowing them to be touched. These, and exotic crosses, which you were permitted to kiss, were drawn from ramshackle cupboards with total nonchalance.

Then there was rocking across the crocodile infested Nile in a coracle in Sudan, to see the multiple remains on Sai Island, a temple from the days of the pharaohs, a Byzantine Cathedral and the remains of an Ottoman fort. And nothing had prepared him for the pyramids of the Sudan, not one cluster but two, framed against a large rock at Karima, framed against the sunset at Begrawiya. That had followed a sight of whirling dervishes far outside Khartoum, a whole host walking round and round the open area in the middle, whirling and chanting, while the surrounding crowd joined in what seemed a marvelous frenzy.

Lions and hippos in the Serengeti pale in comparison, though that visit to Tanzania also included the beautiful architecture of Zanzibar and its quaint palaces. As exotic was the hilltop capital of King Moshoeshoe in Lesotho, a surprisingly beautiful country, which even boasted dinosaur footprints.

The Asian sections, looking only at the island nations in the east, provide equally unusual experiences, including ferries through the Moluccas islands, ending in New Year on a far away beach in the Kea Islands, abounding in giant tortoises and colourful starfish.

There were several visits to the Philippines, but the most exciting was the first, when he explored on his own, taking a bus up to Baguio and then to the underground caves at Sagada and the terraced rice fields of Banaue. Very different were several meetings with Ninoy Aquino, President of the Philippines from 2010, including a lunch when he had to make conversation in lieu of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister who gazed blandly into the middle distance.

The range of experience is splendidly illustrated, pages of lively colour and black and white pictures which capture the lines of the different arts and crafts of the different continents.

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