Summer may be upon us, but with so many jobs located indoors, many hard workers seldom see the light of day – literally.
But vitamin D, provided by exposure to natural sunlight (specifically UVB radiation), is essential for your body’s good health.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb and use calcium from the diet, maintain normal calcium and phosphate levels, promote bone and cell growth, and reduce inflammation.
Chemically, vitamin D is synthesized through a chemical reaction from cholesterol into cholecalciferol in the skin. Furthermore, the liver and kidney must activate vitamin D by doing what’s called enzymatic conversion (hydroxylation).
Simply speaking, you need vitamin D for strong bones and teeth, immune system, brain, nervous system, lung function, and cardiovascular health.
Humans only need 5-10 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight 2-3 times per week in order to get the minimum amount of vitamin D to stay healthy.
However, vitamin D breaks down quite quickly, meaning that the body really can’t store it up – like fat – especially in winter, with fewer daylight hours from a sun slung low in the sky.
If you continue to shun the sun, you are at a higher risk for developing rickets, a disease in which the bone tissue doesn’t properly mineralize, leading to soft bones and skeletal deformities:
Children with rickets exhibit bowed knees typical of the condition
“Research suggests that vitamin D could play a role in the prevention and treatment of a number of different conditions, including type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis.”
Dr. Zahid Naeem believes that vitamin D deficiency is a global epidemic being ignored. He claims that over one billion people worldwide aren’t getting enough of “the Sun (or Sunshine) Vitamin.”
Vitamin D deficiency is now chronic in the United States. Scientific American claims that “Three-quarters of U.S. teens and adults are deficient in vitamin D.”
Think about it. You’re sitting at a table with three other people. On average, only one of you is getting enough vitamin D.
The elderly are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, as are people with a gastrointestinal disorder that interferes with vitamin absorption into the bloodstream (e.g., celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis) or who have undergone surgery that could limit the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D, such as gastric bypass surgery.
Vitamin D deficiencies don’t just spring up overnight. But the symptoms – including fatigue, bone and back pain, depression, wounds that heal slowly, bone and hair loss, and muscle pain – can be confused with other conditions. Many people have very pronounced vitamin D deficiencies without realizing it, until they are tested.
One legitimate concern to sun exposure is an increased risk of getting skin cancer. But remember that human beings were designed for exposure to sunlight in varying amounts, depending on latitude and climatory factors.
Being lucky enough to have a “Mediterranean complexion” – olive-skinned with dark hair – usually tan rather than burn, and can tolerate more exposure to stronger sunlight than their fair-skinned, blond-haired Nordic neighbors.
In fact, it is actually sunburn, not suntan, that is connected to a higher cancer risk. The Cancer Research UK website has this astonishing news:
“Getting sunburn, just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer.”
The trick is to learn how much sunlight your body can take before it reddens to an unpleasant burn. This is usually a matter of trial and error – so err on the side of caution and don’t overdo it.
If you tan artificially, with your own tanning bed at home or at a tanning salon, be sure to start with very limited exposures (5min) and build up your base tan. Shower as soon as possible after tanning to remove skin toxins, and then apply lotion to all exposed parts. Of course, this isn’t always practical, but keeping your skin clean and moist is ultra-important for anyone with exposure to either natural or artificial sunlight.
Here are five ways to boost your vitamin D levels:
- Take oral supplements. Dosages are below.
- Get out in the sun for 20 minutes a day, or at least 2-3 times a week.
- Tan artificially. Visit a local salon or own your own tanning machine. Easy does it. Build up your base tan. Shower and moisturize.
- Eat foods high in vitamin D.
Only a few foods contain vitamin D. Foods high in vitamin D include some fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines), fish liver oils, egg yolks, and fortified dairy and grain products.
Taken as a supplement, how much vitamin D is enough? The Mayo Clinic says:
“In 2010, the Institute of Medicine increased the recommended daily requirement of vitamin D from 400 international units (IU) to 600 IU for most healthy adults and 800 IU for those age 71 and older.”
Restoring your body’s normal vitamin D levels will give you more energy, strengthen your bones and teeth, and keep the rickets away. What’s not to like?