Sunshine, Vitamin D and You

Vitamin D plays a very important role in disease prevention for Cancer, heart disease and other life threatening diseases. There is a growing concern about all the people who now are threatened by the sun; they avoid it and are not aware of the Vitamin D deficiency potential. In the past 10 years, there have been thousands of cases of Vitamin D deficiencies reported each year that are related to inadequate sun exposure due to the development and improvement of sunscreen or avoiding the sun altogether.

Because very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, sunlight supplies most of our vitamin D requirement. There has been a lot of media coverage about the dangers of getting too much sun but it is essential that the skin is exposed to sunlight to obtain the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D. In reality, the amount of time that a person has to spend in the sun to receive a sufficient dose of the D vitamin is extremely small and just a few minutes a day will be sufficient and not have any adverse effects from the amount of ultra-violet light received.

person in strawhat enjoying sunshine

The most important function of vitamin D is to help control how much calcium is absorbed from food. The majority of the calcium is used to build strong teeth and bones but it is also needed to send messages along the nerves and to help muscles, such as the heart muscles, to contract. It is the D vitamin that ensures that there is always sufficient calcium in the blood to perform these tasks. Other functions that require vitamin D relate to the immune system and it is believed that it is also a contributing factor in reducing the risk of contracting many types of cancer and, in particular, colon cancer.

Vitamin D Basics

(ref 1)Vitamin D3 is made in the skin when 7-dehydrocholesterol reacts with UVB ultraviolet light at wavelengths between 270-300 nm, with peak synthesis occurring between 295-297 nm. These wavelengths are present in sunlight when the UV index is greater than 3. At this solar elevation, which occurs daily within the tropics, daily during the spring and summer seasons in temperate regions, and almost never within the arctic circles, adequate amounts of vitamin D3 can be made in the skin after only ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back without sunscreen.

However, season, geographic latitude, time of day, cloud cover, skin cover, skin color, smog, and sunscreen affect UV ray absorption and vitamin D synthesis. For example, sunlight exposure from November through February in Boston is insufficient to produce significant vitamin D synthesis in the skin. With longer exposure to UVB rays, an equilibrium is achieved in the skin, and excess vitamin D simply degrades as fast as it is generated.(1)

Sunshine or Supplement

(ref 2)I had blood work done last year and my Vitamin D level was 9ng/ml which is "Severe Deficient" compared to the normal range of 35-55ng/ml. Of course I did not know the severity of this so I did a lot of research on the subject and I am still amazed at the amount of literature out there. My doctor prescribed a Vitamin D3 supplement. Since our bodies manufacture Vitamin D with direct sun exposure, I decided not to take the supplement for a while and instead I decided to lie on a float in the pool 3 days a week without sunscreen for about 20 minutes each day.

Within 8 weeks, my level increased from 9ng/ml to 24ng/ml. I thought this was great news. My Doctor, who is also my friend, called me an idiot. (Actually I had read an article that 20 minutes a day of direct sun was good for you for lots of reasons and I still believe it!) However, to reduce my risk of "SKIN CANCER" I agreed to take the supplement. Any way, I proved the point to my doctor that I could raise my Vitamin D Level the "natural" way and she proved the point to me that I now have "SKIN CANCER"...go figure! I DO NOT recommend you try this experiment at home...!

Regardless of my 'experiment', I feel this is important information to be aware of. I have several friends who like me have an autoimmune disorder, are "Sun Phobic" and use gallons of sun block. I inquired if any of them have ever had their Vitamin D checked and they all said no. I encouraged them to have it checked and low and behold 4 out of the 5 of them had a Vitamin D deficiency! I believe there is something to this Vitamin D thing. So now we sit around the pool with our gallons of sunscreen, broad rim hats, umbrellas and Vitamin D supplements.(2)

This article is not to imply that you should start taking Vitamin D supplements, or any other supplements, without first consulting with your doctor. Get the proper blood work done and then follow your doctors recommendations. It should also be noted that OTC vitamin D supplements are not necessarily the same as the vitamin D3 supplement that a doctor would prescribe in the case of a vitamin D deficiency.

(2) Vicki H, RN, Cardiology Coding Specialist
Vicki had a basal cell removed with MOHS surgery from her nose, in researching basal cell she discovered this website. We had a very nice email correspondence, in which she offered this quite relevant information about Vitamin D. 'Thanks for permission to use some of your writings.'

Further Reference:
Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.