Table of Contents
To sun or not to the sun; that is the question for folks trying to balance the body’s requirements for the natural vitamin D “the sunshine vitamin” bestowed by the sun’s rays and the need to avoid the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation on our skin.
Vitamin D is made in the body when the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit the skin, setting off a reaction that triggers the synthesis of the sunshine vitamin.
Vital for calcium absorption, nerve conduction, immune function and the reduction of inflammation, vitamin D is one of the body’s most essential nutrients. As a matter of fact, due to its multiples roles within the cell function, vitamin D is nowadays considered to be a true hormone.
What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?
Lack of sunlight is a major cause of vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to soft or brittle bones, muscle pain or weakness, and in severe cases, a serious bone condition called rickets.
Results of a recent study published in the “Archives of Internal Medicine” underscore the need to be sure we maintain adequate levels of this important vitamin. Moreover, testing for vitamin D levels is becoming a routine test requested by functional medicine practitioners to help adjust the level of supplementation required by the patient. Over the eight years of the study, participants with low vitamin D levels had more than double the risk of dying of heart disease and other natural causes than those with high levels.
Some specialists hypothesize that one of the reasons people today may suffer from a lack of enough vitamin D is a marked decrease in our outdoor activities. Another reason is an increase in the use of powerful sunscreens that block the skin’s absorption of UVB light, which is necessary for the synthesis of this vitamin.
How Much Vitamin D is Enough?
Many variables can affect the manufacture skin production of vitamin D, including pollution, cloud cover and heavy layers of clothes. Geographical location plays a huge role in how much of this vital vitamin nutrient the body produces, as the weaker and less frequent sunshine of northern latitudes means a shortage of D-boosting UVB rays.
Currently, the government recommends 200 international units (IUs) of daily D for people under 50, 400 IUs between the ages of 50 and 70, and 600 IUs for folks over 70.
However, many medical experts recommend higher daily supplements of 2,000 IUs in winter and a booster dose of unprotected sunshine exposure every day in summer.
How Can We Get Enough of the Sunshine Vitamin?
As people in the north tend to get insufficient direct UVB rays during the colder seasons, it’s important to stock up on the body’s store during the summer months, when the sun is at its peak and beaches, parks and pools beckon.
Experts recommend fair-skinned folks get 10 minutes of unprotected midday sunlight to get their optimum dose, about 10,000 international units. Dark-skinned people and the elderly also need to be sure they’re getting their daily dose of D.
Though sunlight is the most natural method of ensuring we get enough vitamin D, foods and supplements can help meet daily needs.
Chow down on cold-water fish when possible, or even sardines, egg yolks and vitamin-fortified milk or cereal. Or you can pop vitamin D in your daily multivitamin or as a separate supplement.
Among the two available forms of vitamin D (D2 and D3) in the market, D3 is recommended as it is the naturally occurring form, and the most effective. Most recent data have also shown that supplementation with Vitamin D3 in combination with vitamin K2 has the added benefit of directing calcium to the sites where it is most needed.
Basically, we should all get some daily sunshine, whether by taking a brisk autumn walk or ten blissfully unprotected minutes of the summer sun. Add this cheery habit to your daily schedule along with a vitamin supplement and some D-rich foods, and you should get an optimum dose of the all-important sunshine vitamin.
Image credit: GetStencil.com
Medically reviewed by Dr. Thouria Bensaoula on Oct 18, 2019.
Last article update: 11/18/2019