Vitamin D has gone from a little known alternative medicine subject to mainstream with lots of research supporting its functions and our need for it in the last 10 years. Vitamin D is unlike other vitamins as it actually acts like a hormone in the body. It is vital to overall wellness, and specifically is involved in bone, muscle, heart, lung, brain, and immune system health. The list of conditions with associated vitamin D deficiency is exhaustive, and includes a variety of cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, impaired immune function, cognitive impairment and depression.
Where does vitamin D come from?
Your body manufactures vitamin D through a series of biochemical reactions stimulated by sun exposure. You can also get it from supplementation. You can only get very small, insignificant amounts from foods you eat, such as egg yolks and fatty fish.
But sun exposure causes skin cancer!
Yes, this can also be true, but it is really sun over-exposure that becomes problematic. Due to public health efforts, many folks cover up and use sunscreen before ever entering the sun. While this may be a good strategy to prevent sunburns and potential skin cancer, it leaves a person deficient in vitamin D. Remembering that vitamin D deficiency is linked to impaired immunity and many cancers, this might not be the safest choice.
What should I do?
As with everything, I suggest an individualized approach. Ask yourself what your personal risk factors are: Do you have a family history of skin cancer, light skin and eyes? Do you have a family history of osteoporosis or autoimmunity? Do you experience any chronic inflammation? Think about your risks and your goals and proceed with thoughtfulness. Living in Colorado, you will likely need to supplement vitamin D, at the very least during the winter months depending on your occupation. In my opinion, a combined approach of supplementation and sun exposure is best.
Combined supplementation and sun exposure approach
I encourage my patients to get moderate sun exposure. Exposing broad areas of the body such as the front and back torso is more beneficial than simply the face and arms, for instance, due to surface area. You can intentionally sunbathe for 5-10 minutes a day, or if you are going to be outside anyway, wait 5-10 minutes before applying sunscreen and/or covering up. The key is to never get burned. Additionally, I supplement vitamin D based on test results, and retest at different times of the year in order to adjust supplementation.
For more information on vitamin D, visit The Vitamin D Council.
Check back soon for my upcoming post on Sunscreens.
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