Sunscreen Guide for the Summer – But Don’t Block Out The Vitamin D!
With summer upon us and the days warming up, there is a lot to look forward to, like backyard BBQs and more time at the beach. Regular sunscreen use is important to help prevent skin cancer, especially for those long days spent outside. But longer hours of daylight give our bodies a chance to tap into one of the main sources of vitamin D – the sun!
Vitamin D is different from other vitamins because it’s difficult to get from most food sources. Many foods that contain vitamin D are fortified with the vitamin by manufacturers. Vitamin D fortification of certain products like cereal and milk was started in the 1930s to help prevent rickets in children. Foods that do contain natural sources of vitamin D are certain fatty fish, like salmon or mackerel. Egg yolks, beef liver and cheese, meanwhile, contain small amounts.
The main source of vitamin D for our bodies is the sun. The skin makes vitamin D when it is directly exposed to sunlight, especially in the summer months. But the skin must be DIRECTLY in the sun, so sunscreen, hats and other cover-ups limit your body’s ability to make vitamin D. Of course, that doesn’t mean that sunscreen is not vital when spending time outside, but 5-20 minutes between the hours of 10am and 3pm a few times per week (without coverings or sunscreen) can be more than enough for the body to make all the vitamin D it needs.
Why is vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin with many important functions in the body. One of the major roles of vitamin D is to help with the absorption of calcium from the food we eat. Because of this, vitamin D is vital to promote bone health and to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D also plays a role in muscle movement and helps the immune system fight bacteria and viruses.
Vitamin D has received a lot of attention lately because many people are deficient in the vitamin, especially those who live in colder climates where the days are shorter. Certain other groups may be more prone to vitamin D deficiency such as people with darker skin, those with illnesses that prevent proper absorption of nutrients, and breastfed children who do not receive vitamin D. The elderly are also at high risk for vitamin D deficiency due to too much time spent inside and the fact that their skin no longer absorbs vitamin D as well as those that are younger.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include bone pain, muscle weakness, and, for children, rickets. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to osteoporosis and bone fractures, due to its role in calcium absorption. People who do not get enough vitamin D may develop osteomalacia or softening of the bones. Supplementation of calcium with vitamin D is especially important in the elderly who are at high risk for bone fractures.
Vitamin D has been found to have an influence on many diseases. There has been research linking low levels of vitamin D to certain cancers like thyroid, prostate, and breast cancer. There is some research that shows that vitamin D may play a role in the prevention of diabetes and hypertension, although the exact mechanism has not been discovered. Vitamin D can also be related to difficulty losing weight. People who are obese tend to have lower levels of vitamin D, as vitamin D is fat soluble and gets trapped in the body’s fat cells.
If you are concerned about vitamin D deficiency, you might consider a vitamin D supplement. Before taking any high dose of supplements, though, it is important to first have your levels checked by your doctor. If you are deficient, a doctor may give you up to 10,000 IU for a short time to help improve your levels. Most over-the-counter multivitamins contain about 800 IU of vitamin D which is enough to meet most people’s needs. Be careful to check the total amount of vitamin D you are getting if you are taking a calcium supplement (with vitamin D) in addition to your regular multivitamin. The total for the day should not exceed 1000 IU from any source. Do not worry about getting too much vitamin D from the sun – the body knows how much it needs. So, get out there, enjoy the sun, and enjoy the warmer weather!
Ana Johnson is Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, blogger, and freelance writer. Her areas of expertise in the field of nutrition are diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and bariatric surgery. Her mission in life is to use her innovative nutrition knowledge and extensive experience to help people achieve permanent wellness. She has her own blog at wholelifediets.com.