Vitamin D has been all over the news lately. “New” scientific breakthroughs have revealed that there is much more at stake in our daily intake of Vitamin D. Are we getting enough? What happens if you are deficient? How do you get enough? What happens if you get too much?
Here’s the quick and dirty – Americans (probably most first-world nations) are spending more and more time inside. We are no longer farmers, but computer watchers. Most people’s work doesn’t allow them a whole lot of time outside their cubicle or classroom or factory. And when we are home we tend to spend a good part of our free time in front of computers, TV’s, and video games. Our yards are smaller and in some cases, not safe. When we do go outside, we are covered up with technically advanced clothing that blocks UVB rays and slathered in sunscreen (which prohibits our body from absorbing the sunshine necessary to make Vitamin D). Consequently, we aren’t getting our Vitamin D on a daily basis. And this includes kids. Huge numbers of people are Vitamin D deficient.
Let me back up, first of all what do we know about Vitamin D. You probably remember that milk is fortified with Vitamin D and it’s necessary to build strong bones. This process was developed years ago to prevent kids from getting rickets. A deficiency in Vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin because it’s produced in the human body. And it’s not found in any natural source except fish and egg yolks, and even then it requires the body to make it in to vitamin D. The body can also use sunshine to create vitamin D. It then stores the extra Vitamin D in the fat cells to use for, literally, a rainy day.
But how much do we need? The first government recommended allowances said 200IU of Vitamin D daily. In 1997, it was up to 400 for kids and 600 for adults. New research is indicating that we need even more, perhaps 800 or 1000. This research is also showing that Vitamin D is more essential than at first thought. Scientists believe that Vitamin D is critical to the brain, prostate, breast, colon, heart, lung, muscles and our immune cells. Much of this research has been around, but is only getting attention of late. The auto-immune “community” has been touting its benefits for years. Many people who suffer from Alopecia Areata (the autoimmune condition my youngest son has) buy “happy lights” to get more UVB light. Vitamin D is powerful, helping normal cells grow, but also helping abnormal ones (cancer cells come to mind) die. It has been proven to destroy infectious agents, such as TB.
People with low levels of Vitamin D are at a 30-50% increased risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer. They are at a higher risk for diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, schizophrenia, depression, and muscle weakness.
Does this news make you want to grab your beach towel? It should. Being a person of incredibly fair skin, I am also aware of the dangers of too much sun. I have the freckles to prove it. I’m fairly sure that Vitamin D is not one of my deficiencies. Actually, all you need to get your vitamin D is 5-10 minutes of direct sunlight between the hours of 10am and 3pm. So maybe your plan could be to put the sunscreen on after you’ve set up your chair and had your snack.
Here’s an interesting tidbit I found in my research this morning. If you live above 37 degrees north of the equator (draw a line from Philadelphia to San Francisco) or 37 degrees south of the equator, it’s not quite as easy to get your Vitamin D from the sunshine during the winter. The research didn’t say if you just need more time or if there isn’t enough sunshine altogether. That said, you can get Vitamin D from supplements and fortified products like milk and orange juice. Some doctors, who worry about skin cancers, recommend you do that, but be aware that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. While you can’t overdose on Vitamin D from the sun, you can from supplements resulting in grogginess, constipation, and even death. But you’d have to really work to get that much vitamin D in to you. Experts at Harvard say up to 2000IU a day is safe.
Vitamin D aside, I know that sunshine is a real pick-me-up for me and for my kids. Sometimes it’s tempting to stay inside, especially when it’s really hot, but 10 minutes won’t kill anyone, and it just might save your life.