How Much Sun Is Enough?
Vitamin D consumption (or lack-there-of) has become a hot topic lately. So, why exactly do we need Vitamin D and how much is enough? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamins, including Vitamin D, are chemicals that are needed by our body for good health. They are vital to ensuring our body works properly and that we are able to fight illness and heal from infection. However, Vitamin D isn’t like most other vitamins, which we have to get from the foods we eat. Our bodies can make their own vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The vitamin D that you get in your skin from sunlight, (as well as the vitamin D you can get from taking supplements) has to be changed by your body a number of times before it can be used. Once it’s ready, your body uses it to manage the amount of calcium in your blood, bones and gut and to help cells all over your body to communicate properly.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is important for good overall health and strong and healthy bones. It’s also an important factor in making sure your muscles, heart, lungs and brain work well and that your body can fight infection. The link between vitamin D and strong healthy bones was made many years ago when doctors realized that sunlight, which allows you to produce vitamin D, or taking cod liver oil, which contains vitamin D, helped to prevent a bone condition called rickets in children. Today, vitamin D is seen as a vital part of good health and it’s important not just for the health of your bones. Recent research is now showing that vitamin D may be important in preventing and treating a number of serious long term health problems.
How can we get Vitamin D?
Your body gets vitamin D mainly from sunlight, though very small amounts can also be found in a few foods. You can also get vitamin D by taking supplements. When your skin is exposed to the sun, it produces vitamin D and sends it to your liver. If you take supplements or eat foods that contain vitamin D, your gut also sends the vitamin D to your liver. From there, your liver changes it to a substance called 25(OH)D. When your doctor talks about your vitamin D levels, he means the amount of 25(OH)D you have in your blood.
How much Vitamin D do we need?
Getting the right amount of vitamin D doesn’t depend on the foods you eat. To get enough vitamin D you need to expose your skin to sunlight regularly (without sunscreen – and a large area is best) and you may also need to take supplements. This makes getting the right amount a little more complex compared to other vitamins and minerals. If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D to keep it healthy, this is called vitamin D deficiency. Severe vitamin D deficiency can sometimes cause a condition called rickets in children and a condition called osteomalacia in adults. Both of these conditions cause soft, thin, and brittle bones.
A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to some other conditions such as cancer, asthma, type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and type-I diabetes.
What’s the best way for me to ensure I get enough vitamin D?
The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight (ultraviolet B rays). This can happen very quickly, particularly in the summer. You don’t need to tan or burn your skin to get vitamin D. You only need to expose your skin for around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn. How much vitamin D is produced from sunlight depends on the time of day, where you live in the world and the color of your skin. The more skin you expose the more vitamin D is produced.
Exposing your skin to the sun for too long, so that your skin starts to burn can be dangerous. This is because it can increase your risk of developing skin cancers. Research to date shows that moderate but frequent sun exposure is healthy but overexposure and intense exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer.
After you have exposed your skin for half the time it takes for you to turn pink, cover up with clothing and go into the shade.