The D-Lightful “Sunshine Vitamin”
There seems to be an explosion of information about vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” but it can all get a little confusing – “Stay out of the sun – you’ll get skin cancer!” versus “Get outside so you get your vitamin D!” Let’s try to make some sense of the recommendations for getting adequate vitamin D.
Why are we talking about vitamin D? Well, for one, experts believe that perhaps 50% of all Americans may be deficient in vitamin D, including some children and breastfed babies. People who live in colder climates, those with dark skin color, people who are ill and thus spend more time indoors, people who are significantly overweight, and most of us during the winter months are at risk for low vitamin D levels.
Why else? There is a wealth of research on vitamin D, some of the most interesting only completed in the past 5 years, that suggests this vitamin is ‘in-D-spensable” when it comes to our health and wellness. Most people know that vitamin D is important for maintaining strong bones, but you might be surprised to know that vitamin D has been suggested to play important health roles in at least the following ways:
Proper sunlight exposure
- may help defend against cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure
- may help prevent multiple sclerosis
- may help relieve diffuse pain when administered to some people with low vitamin D levels
- may have protective effects against prostate, colon and perhaps breast cancer
- may play a role in preventing diabetes
The primary way most of us get our vitamin D is by exposing our skin to sunlight, which generates a reaction whereby vitamin D is produced. But how do we reconcile the recommendations for getting adequate vitamin D and those coming from concerned dermatologists who warn against rising rates of skin cancer? Let me offer my take on this:
- Expose your skin to 15-20 minutes of sunlight each day
- THEN, however, go BACK INSIDE to apply sun block and cover up well before you go outside again.
This is a very general set of recommendations, of course, and other factors need to be considered, including geographic location (the farther someone lives from the equator the more difficult it is to get adequate vitamin D solely from sun exposure). You can’t get too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but you can do significant damage to your skin and increase your risk for skin cancer if you’re not careful.
Additional Ways to get more vitamin D
Some foods contain vitamin D, but unless you’re eating wild salmon (600-1,000 IU vitamin D per serving) every day it’s unlikely you’ll get all you need from diet alone.
It appears that many of us could benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement. The best way to know for sure, however, is to have your doctor get a blood test called a 25-hydroxy D level. Generally speaking, you want your vitamin D level to be over 30 ng/ml.
If your doctor recommends taking a vitamin D supplement, the typical dosage has risen to 1,000 IU daily (it used to be much lower, and some experts suggest that even this level is too low). As long as your “DDD” (“Daily Dose of D”) doesn’t exceed 2,000 IU and you are healthy, it’s unlikely that you would develop toxicity from vitamin D. People found to be very deficient in vitamin D are often treated with 10,000-50,000 IU a week for a period of time under close monitoring.
Vitamin D supplements are found in 2 forms:
- Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3)
- Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2)
Vitamin D3 has long been considered superior to vitamin D2, although recent data suggest the two may be comparable in effect. Until we know more, however, I will continue to recommend vitamin D3.
So, what does this all mean for you? It means you should talk with your doctor about vitamin D, whether you need to take it or not, and if so in what dosage (it appears that almost any of us might benefit from supplementing with vitamin D, but checking with our doctors first is a good precaution). General recommendations are that otherwise healthy people, including schoolchildren, should be taking about 1,000 IU a day. Get a little bit of unprotected sun exposure every day (perhaps no more than 15 minutes), then get covered up and apply sun block to exposed skin before enjoying the great outdoors again. And eat cold water, oily fish at least twice a week.
Following “D-ese” guidelines may help you enhance yourwellness.
Information contained in this e-letter is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information in this e-letter for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.