It’s Summer and we finally have a few days of sun! This is our chance to get outside, expose some skin and experience our own brand of photosynthesis. You may think that photosynthesis is something only plants do but we humans do it too. The difference is that, instead of making glucose and other sugars, humans make vitamin D.
I really think the sun has gotten a bad rap of late. Everyone is concerned about the possibility that exposing skin to sun will cause skin cancer. This is understandable since the incidence of skin cancer per capita has been rising over the last decade or so. This, *despite* more people staying indoors, watching TV, playing video games etc and staying covered with clothing, hats and sun screen when they do venture outside.
Something many people are not aware of is that vitamin D deficiency causes a lot of problems beyond weak bones and teeth. It’s important for a strong immune system, for preventing diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases like MS and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and depression.
It’s also important for preventing several types of cancer, including skin cancer! While people are busy protecting themselves from the “dangerous” effects of the sun they may actually be increasing their chances of skin cancer as well as all the problems above!
Like a lot of things, moderation is the key to good health when it comes to sun exposure. Getting repeated burns will cause skin damage that increases your risk of skin cancer. Avoiding any significant sun exposure will increase your risk of skin cancer (and a lot of other problems) by leaving you vitamin D deficient. My recommendation is to get out in the sun for 20-40 minutes 2-4 times/week with as much skin exposed as possible. Check your shadow. If it’s longer than you are tall, the sun is too low in the sky to stimulate much vitamin D production.
If you’re going to be out in the sun for several hours then, by all means, protect yourself with hats, sun screen etc. You might want to wait 20 minutes or so before covering up.
If you have a problem that truly requires you to stay out of the sun, you’ll need to take a vitamin D supplement. There is also a big difference in how well different people make vitamin D. As we get older, we tend to lose some ability. Darker skinned people have more protection from the sun but also make vitamin D less well. On the other hand, I’ve seen some light skinned people in their 30s and 40s who are not making vitamin D well. If you need to take oral vitamin D (this is almost everyone in this part of the country during the Winter) make sure it’s vitamin D3 not D2. The D in milk is not enough and is usually D2.
Usually, your body won’t make more vitamin D than you need but you can get too much taking it orally. Because there is also a big difference in how people absorb vitamin D in orally, the only sure way to tell how much D is in your system is with a blood test. Because you can also get too much D, resulting in kidney damage, I don’t feel muscle testing is adequate when using the amount of vitamin D (3000-10,000 iu/day) needed to get us into the “optimal health range”.
The lab level for vitamin D is 30 – 100 ng/ml. This is a level that will prevent diseases like rickets but most modern authorities suggest a level of at least 50 – 100 ng/ml. I like my patients to test at least 50 for general good health and 60-80 for those with auto-immune conditions, diabetes, depression or other disease states that are affected by vitamin D. Again, over 100 could cause vitamin D toxicity. When I first got serious about vitamin D, my blood levels went to 120! I happen to be one of the people who produce D well from sun exposure despite being in my 60s and need to stop taking D from May through September. Fortunately, I didn’t have any detrimental effects from briefly excessive vitamin D levels but this shows how easy it can be to get too much of a good thing!
So, for good health, come in and let me set you up for a vitamin D blood test and get some sun!