The role of Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, in our bodies has become an important topic as there’s now evidence that Vitamin D deficiency is the most common medical condition in the world. Crazy, right?! It’s estimated that 50% to 70% of children and adults in the world are Vitamin D deficient. In the past, I always either avoided the sun or covered my body repeatedly with sunscreen. Now I realize the extreme importance of Vitamin D in our health, and that those beautiful rays the sun blesses us with aren’t something to avoid. They’re just that . . . blessings for us to enjoy and soak up, of course in a healthy amount. What a relief, to be honest, because it’s now so calming and balancing for me to be out in the sunshine without the stress of thinking “I shouldn’t be out here, this is so bad for my skin”. And avoiding a good deal of the hassle of putting sunscreen on me, much less my 3-year old, is awesome! So how much is too much sun, what is the effect of sunscreen regarding Vitamin D and are health, and how much should we receive? All worthy considerations with summer here now. And I know this is an important question for parents regarding their children. The last thing we want for our children is to be the “reason” that our kids get a sunburn. Nor do we as adults want leathery skin down the road! But I think it’s good to be aware of the importance of receiving Vitamin D. In this article I’ll do a short run-down of the benefits of Vitamin D, sources of receiving it, the low-down on sunscreens, the truth about its relation to skin cancer, and ideal levels we should be receiving.
According to Dr. Michael Holick, director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory and Director of the Bone and Health Care Clinic at Boston University School of Medicine, Vitamin D plays a critical role in reducing the risk of numerous diseases, as well as improving the immune system and improving and reducing the risk of having infectious diseases. Most know of its role in helping the absorption of calcium, which helps maintain strong bones. Without adequate Vitamin D, our bodies absorb only about 10-15% of dietary calcium, whereas with adequate amounts our body takes up 30-40%. The same goes with phosphorous, which as well plays a critical role in skeletal strength. With low Vitamin D, the body absorbs about 60% of phosphorous,whereas with adequate amounts it absorbs about 80%. The list of other related illness due to low Vitamin D are: common cancers, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, influenza, and more, including having an effect on healthy pregnancy and birth. Having the optimal amount, which I’ll get to later, of Vitamin D significantly reduces the risk of getting these diseases. I could go on and on with studies and statistics, and the research behind this but that will take longer than I’ve set aside for this article and I really want to get to the use of sunscreens and optimal dosage of Vitamin D. But for further information, check out Dr. Holick’s website, http://www.drholick.com, or his book The Vitamin D Solution. As well, The Truth About Cancer at http://www.thetruthaboutcancer.com has amazing info on Vitamin D.
According the research done and presented in The Truth About Cancer, sunscreens actually INCREASE the risk of cancer because they filter out the UVB rays, which is exactly what our bodies use to convert to Vitamin D and protect us from cancer. Sunscreens don’t however filter out UVA rays, which cause cancer. It turns out, according to Dr. Holick, that excessive exposure to sunlight (sunburning experiences) increases the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer, which is easy to detect and easy to treat. Most melanomas, the most serious form of skin cancer, occurs on the LEAST sun exposed areas. So something to consider the next time you bath yourself in sunblock before even going outside to receive some of those delicious rays the sun gives us!
Unlike popular belief, we actually can’t become Vitamin D intoxicated from the sun. Excess Vitamin D produced in the skin is rapidly degraded by the sun. That doesn’t mean I’m encouraging excess exposure, as it’s still a sunburn and uncomfortable for one, and yes, leads to leathery skin and other skin issues for another! Here is my sunshine-sunscreen regime. I use a natural sunscreen on myself and my daughter, but only after we’ve had some exposure to the rays . . and this is true even when we lived in Costa Rica. Depending on the time of day and what latitude I am, I aim for 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure before putting on sunscreen. And if I can find shade, I do that instead of sunscreen, and use a long sleeve shirt and hat. Why put extra ingredients on our skin if we don’t have to? I only use zinc-based natural sunscreens and often make mine at home.
When I know that my daughter and I are receiving adequate sunshine, as in during the summer months or while vacationing in sunny areas in the winter, I don’t worry about supplementation. This is when we can receive at least 10 minutes of direct sunshine a day, on average. On in-door days when it’s cold or rainy outside, especially day after day, I make sure we’re supplementing, and some people depending on where they live, their outdoor activity and health condition may need constant supplementation. For supplementing, according to Dr. Holick, children should be receiving at least 400 units of Vitamin D a day, and up to 1,000 units, in his opinion is completely safe. And adults should be receiving 2,000 units a day at least.
Perhaps Schulz says it all in his Peanuts character where it’s summer in San Diego and Linus gets a note from his mom saying, “Are you sitting in the sun? I hope so. A little sun is good, as long as we don’t overdo it. Perhaps 10 minutes a day. This time of year is about right.” She nailed the truth! I hope this article helps you as you head into the sunny summer months. Get out there and get a HEALHTY dosage of sunshine!