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Vitamin D: To D or not to D

Regular exposure to sunlight allows our skin cells to use UVB rays to synthesize vitamin D, a steroid vitamin that is important for a maintaining a strong immune system. Other benefits include:

  • Helps prevent prostate, colon, breast, and other cancers and bone diseases (osteoporosis)
  • Provides calcium balance in the body that prevents arthritis and osteomalacia
  • Helps reduce stress and depression
  • Makes skin soft, strong, and smooth and improves muscle strength
  • Helps reduce respiratory infections and severity of asthma symptoms
  • Helps reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis

However, with modern lifestyles that include more time indoors and scientists warning about the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer, it is no surprise that most people are vitamin D deficient. Keep in mind that our skin makes vitamin D only when directly exposed to the sun, and skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D. Other factors such as cloudy days, smog, sunscreens, and having dark skin tone may reduce your body’s vitamin D synthesis.

Advocates of unprotected sun exposure promote 5-10 minutes of UV exposure from the sun 2-3 times a week so that the body can regularly synthesize vitamin D. However, dermatologists and skin cancer groups have strongly argued against unprotected sun exposure, since too much will damage skin cells, accelerate aging, and increase the risk of skin cancer.

So if unprotected sun exposure is too dangerous but yet our bodies need adequate amounts of vitamin D for good health, what is one to do?

Luckily, adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained from vitamin D fortified foods and dietary supplements, thus averting the need of dangerous UV exposure. Not many foods contain vitamin D, but the follow do:

  • Fish/Salmon
  • Cod liver Oil
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Vitamin D fortified orange juice

Although vitamin D obtained from supplements are not as effective as naturally synthesized vitamin D by our body, it is a much safer and noncarcinogenic alternative to lying unprotected in the sun.