Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most prevalent deficiencies worldwide, present in both underdeveloped and developed countries affecting up to 1 billion people worldwide. According to Mercy Medical Center in Ohio, 42% of Americans have vitamin D deficiency and may not even know it.
Since vitamin D is used in a wide variety of the body’s functions, it can also appear as many different signs and symptoms, making it more difficult to diagnose. The effects of Vitamin D deficiency can range from lack of energy, mood swings, depression, chronic skin conditions, and metabolic and bone health. It has been found to be associated with serious conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, various autoimmune diseases, and osteoporosis(1).
Where does Vitamin D come from?
Vitamin D is found in a wide variety of common food that we eat and can also be produced through exposure to sunlight. It is found in foods such as dairy products, fatty fish(salmon, mackerel, tuna), eggs, and beef liver. The body is able to produce small amounts of Vitamin D through the melanin in skin (the stuff that makes you tan).
How much sunlight is recommended for Vitamin D?
This is dependent on your skin tone. Is your skin more fair or more pigmented? Darker skin has evolved over time to have more melanin, providing skin with natural protection from sunburns. More melanin means it requires more time outdoors to produce the same amount of vitamin D compared to lighter skinned people. (good news for people who like to spend time outside) Although, the recommended time is 10-15 minutes of sun a few times per week is adequate for your body to create the Vitamin D it needs to function.
Tip 1 =*Know your skin! How long does it take you to sunburn?
A good rule of thumb is to stay in the sun for half as long as it takes for your particular skin type to burn before covering up. If you aren’t sure, stick with 10-30 minutes of sunbathing while exposing one to two thirds of your body to sunlight. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunblock does not have a major effect on Vitamin D production and they recommend applying sunblock to prevent skin damage from sun exposure.
Tip 2 =* Use proper protection.
Exposing your arms, legs, and torso are much more efficient for sunbathing since there is more surface area. Sunblock, a large brimmed hat, and sunglasses are your outdoor best friends. Since your head and face make up a small portion of skin on your body, keep this area covered. Extra sun exposure doesn’t necessarily contribute to producing more vitamin D and the risk of skin damage is far greater than the benefits of premature aging on the face. :)
Tip 3= Soak up the sun around noon.
Do you really need another great reason to enjoy your lunch break outside on a sunny day? Roll up your sleeves and catch some beneficial rays! Studies have shown that the best time to get sunshine is midday since there are the most UVB rays, with 30 minutes of sun exposure being equivalent to up to 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D (2). (just be careful if you have sensitive skin and are prone to burning!)
Since the sun is the strongest at this time, you need to spend a shorter amount of time in the sun. Although if you are doing an activity outdoor such as hiking, sunbathing, or sports for a long period of time, it is recommended to go early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the sun's rays aren't as strong.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors that can affect vitamin D synthesis from sunlight including: your skin type, where you live geographically (high or low latitudes), gastrointestinal health, and poor weather (cloudy/overcast). For those who are unable to get consistent exposure to sunlight, Vitamin D can be supplemented in other ways.
Here are some other ways you can get Vitamin D:
Supplements: How much Vitamin D do I need everyday?
Many nutritional experts recommend deficient adults to get 1,000-4,000 IU of Vitamin D per day to reach healthy vitamin D blood levels, and 800- 1000 IU per day to maintain Vitamin D levels. Studies have shown people who have blood levels with high amounts of vitamin D have a 50% decrease in risk of colorectal cancer, and a 10% decrease in risk of cardiovascular disease.
Foods High in Vitamin D
It is recommended to have 800- 1000 IU per day to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels. Foods such as fish (especially wild caught), eggs, dairy, mushrooms and fortified foods are good sources of vitamin D.
3.5 oz of fish contains 200-360 IU
Milk enriched with vitamin D contains 98 IU
Fortified Cereal contains 40-100 IU
Cod Liver Oil 1,360 IU
UVB Sun Lamps:
When used correctly, UV lamps are an effective source of vitamin D and can even help with SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder in areas where there is less sunlight available during the winter months. Just 10-15 minutes of light therapy under a sunlamp that emits UVB rays a few times per week is adequate for your body to create Vitamin D through the melanin in skin.
Lamps with UVB rays that mimic sun exposure are necessary for skin to convert light into Vitamin D. Some lamps require it to be a certain minimum distance from your skin. Follow directions on the lamps to prevent injury such as skin irritation and burns. You can even apply sunblock to your skin to prevent skin damage when using sun lamps indoors.
What happens when I take too much Vitamin D?
Hypervitaminosis D is a fancy way of saying there is too much Vitamin D in the body, most commonly from over supplementation. Toxicity can lead to excess calcium in the blood and kidneys, nausea, vomiting, changes in mental functioning, weakness, and frequent urination. Vitamin D toxicity might progress to bone pain due to excessive calcium and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
As always, be sure to talk to your doctor or nutritionist for guidelines on how much is appropriate for you and if you need supplementation!
*Disclaimer: This blog is for educational and entertainment purposes only, and is NOT intended as medical advice. If you or any other person have a medical concern, please seek guidance from a medical professional.