You may think that just because it is summer and the days are a little bit brighter, you are in the clear when it comes to vitamin D deficiency. However, you may be wrong. While it is certainly true that the sun is the strongest during the summer months, in order for your body to actually absorb enough sunlight to stimulate vitamin D production, you must be outside with your arms and legs fully exposed for at least 20 minutes during the hours of maximum sun (10am-2pm). This time must also be without sunscreen. Researchers believe that the increase in vitamin D deficiency may be a result in the increased use of sunscreen. Now, we are certainly not advocating for unprotected sun exposure, however, 20 minutes of pre-screened sunning can help boost your vitamin D levels and your health!
Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, affecting every cell in your body. Not only is it necessary for your body to absorb calcium, directly affecting bone health, it also decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes and improves mood and cognition, just to name a few!
So, who is at the highest risk for deficiency?
- Individuals who spend most of their time indoors, cover up with clothing when they are outdoors or get little to no sun exposure.
- Those living the northern hemisphere are far more susceptibility to deficiency than those living near the equator where there are many more sunny days.
- Devout sunscreen wearing will undoubtedly decrease your risk of skin cancer but it can also increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency! Sunscreen blocks most of the skin’s production of vitamin D. Allow 15-20 minutes of sun exposure prior to lathering up.
- People who have a darker skin tone have more melanin in their skin, and this pigment is a “natural sunscreen” that slows down skin production of vitamin D.
- Older individuals are less efficient at converting the sun’s rays into active vitamin D in the body and are more likely to have low vitamin D levels.
- People with excess body fat have lower vitamin D levels so individuals who are overweight or obese are at greater risk.
Where can you get it?
The simplest way to get enough vitamin D is from the sun, however, it is also found in in small amounts in egg yolks from hens who were fed vitamin D, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel and fortified foods like milk and cereal.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin D is essential for health and a few minutes outside each day can greatly decrease your risk of deficiency. If you spend most of your time indoors, begin to experience muscle pain, weakness or extreme fatigue; it is worth a visit to your physician for a simple blood test. Vitamin D deficiency can be treated simply by supplementation. Current guidelines recommend that levels of 30 ng/dL or less should be supplement with 2,000 international units of cholecalciferol (the active form of vitamin D) daily. Intakes of 800-1000 international units daily OR ~20 minutes per day of sun exposure, are needed to maintain serum levels.