I am often asked the question, “if sun exposure causes my skin to make vitamin D and viitamin D is so important, why I am covering my skin and protecting it from the sun.” To answer this question, let’s learn more about vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble (dissolves in fat) vitamin that is involved in bone development and remodeling. The proven health benefits are maintaining healthy bone development in children and providing some protection against osteoporosis and falls in adults. Other suggested but not proven benefits of vitamin D are increased muscle strength, improved response to cancer treatments and possible cancer prevention, improved immune function and possible overall decrease in mortality.
So now that we are convinced that vitamin D is important, we can answer the question of how we can maintain adequate levels.
A popular myth is that it is easy to make enough vitamin D by exposing your skin to the sun. Unfortunately this is only true in very specific circumstances. In order to produce vitamin D, large amounts of our skin’s surface area (chest, abdomen and back) have to be exposed to an adequate strength of sunlight. The darker your skin and the lower the UV index (closer to winter) the harder it is to achieve adequate amounts of sun exposure to product substantial vitamin D. The lighter your skin and the higher the UV index (the closer to summer) the easier to produce vitamin D but at the risk of causing significant sun damage to the skin. It is almost impossible to get enough sunlight exposure in the wintertime (especially in our industrialized indoor focused school and career life) to make a healthy amount of vitamin D.
Given the challenges with making vitamin D through the skin, what are the options for maintaining healthy levels?
We can obtain vitamin D though eating the natural foods which contain it-fatty fish and eggs - or foods fortified with vitamin D-milk, orange juice and cereals. A more fool proof option is to take a daily supplement with vitamin D which is arguably the most accurate way and thus most effective way of maintaining safe levels of Vitamin D. The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is based on age and is as follows:
- <1 year of age 400 IU (international units)
- age 1-70 600 IU
- >age 70 800 IU
So have fun in the sun but protect your skin and leave the vitamin D levels to your gummy vites!