Vitamin D: The “Sun” Vitamin

Girl at the beach with the sun in the background.When it comes to your health, what letter of the alphabet plays a bigger role than you think… D!!

We typically get Vitamin D from being out in the sun. Back in the days when we were all playing outside 24/7 and some were laying out with their baby oil or just not worrying about sunscreen- vitamin D levels were never even thought of. 

Well, those days are gone- now that we are more aware of skin cancer, and the days of riding bikes and playing outdoors is being overtaken by video games and indoor play.

Personally, I have been battling with several health issues more recently, including weight loss resistance, despite every effort I have made to have spot on nutrition and physical activity. In other words, the numbers game has not been on my side. One thing I discovered, on my own I might add, and of no concern to any Doctor I have been to, is that I have dangerously low Vitamin D levels. 

What can this mean to you: Several studies have shown Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked to breast cancercolon cancerprostate cancerheart diseasedepressionweight gain, and other ailments. These studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease, although they do not prove that lack of vitamin D causes disease — or that vitamin D supplements would lower risk.

8 Signs You May Be Vitamin D Deficient:

  • You Have Darker Skin. If you have dark skin, you may need as much as 10 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as a person with pale skin!
  • You Feel “Blue”. Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation, falls with decreased sun exposure.
  • You’re 50 or Older. As you get older your skin doesn’t make as much vitamin D when exposed to the sun. 
  • You’re Overweight or Obese (or Have a Higher Muscle Mass). Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means body fat acts as a “sink” by collecting it. If you’re overweight or obese, you’re likely going to need more vitamin D than a slimmer person — and the same is true for people with higher muscle mass.
  • Your Bones Ache. A lot of time you can be diagnosed as having fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Head Sweating. 
  • You Have Gut Trouble. Remember, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means if you have a GI condition that affects your ability to absorb fat, you may have lower absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Breast-fed Babies. 

How Can We Be Sure We’re Getting Enough from the Sun While Protecting Our Skin with Sunscreen

Here’s what you have to know:

  • To get all of the Vitamin D you need each week from the sun, you only need up to 20 minutes of sun exposure on areas such as your hands, legs or face two times a week.
  • On average, it takes sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes to protect your skin from the sun after you apply it. Check out your sunscreen bottle; it probably says to apply up to 30 minutes before you go into the sun. If you apply it right before you go outside, your skin is still getting that Vitamin D for the day.
  • While many of us are good at remembering sunscreen in our daily moisturizer or putting it on before we go play outside in the summer, most of us aren’t as good as we think we are. For example, did you know the SPF in your moisturizer only lasts a couple hours before you should reapply? How many of us put on more before we go out in the afternoon? What about the days where you are wearing a short sleeve shirt and you take your dog for a quick walk or drive to the store? 

Still Not Convinced You Can Get Vitamin D with Sunscreen?

If you want to get out in the sun uncovered to get your weekly doses of Vitamin D, do so in the morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t straight overhead. The UV rays aren’t as strong in the mid-morning and late afternoon as they are mid-day. Go ahead and head out in the sun twice a week for 15 or 20 minutes and this will help. 

** This is in no way, shape or form me condoning not wearing sunscreen! There are other ways to get your “sun” vitamin.**

If you are still concerned that sunscreen may decrease your skin’s production of vitamin D…

  • You should discuss your options for getting vitamin D with your doctor.
  • Many people can get the vitamin D they need from foods (i.e. cod and salmon, shiitake mushrooms, and eggs) and/or vitamin supplements. This approach gives you the vitamin D you need without increasing your risk for skin cancer.

Vitamin D Levels:

Recommended doses of serum 25(OH)D levels by the Institute of Medicine

nmol/L* ng/ml* Health benefits
<30 <12 Not sufficient vitamin D. These levels cause development of rickets
30-50 12-20 These levels are not sufficient for good bone and overall health.
>50 >20 Levels considered adequate for bone and overall health.
>125 >50 Possible contraindications are possible at levels higher than 125 nmol/L. These doses are not recommended for healthy adults.