Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vitamin D- the sun should not be feared

Popular beliefs have scared us into being afraid of the sun. Why? Because cancer and sickness is big business in America (unfortunately). Anti-sun preachers couldn't be more wrong. The act of our bodies turning sunlight into usable nutrients is extremely important to the balance of our bodies. 

"Vitamin D is found throughout the body and acts as a signaling mechanism to turn cells on and off. Right now, the recommended dose from food and supplements is about 400 international units a day for most people, but most experts agree that is probably too low. The Institute of Medicine is reviewing guidelines for vitamin D and is expected to raise the recommended daily dose," says Tara Parker-Hope in her NY Times article titled Vitamin D, Miracle Drug: Is It Science, or Just Talk?

Dr. Holick, also a PhD who is an expert in vitamin D and sunlight, states in his book (referenced below) that it is virtually impossible to get enough vitamin D through eating and/or taking supplements. The best way to get enough vitamin D3 (the kind our body needs) is sun exposure. 

"People’s vitamin D levels are influenced by whether they have light or dark skin, where they live, how much time they spend outdoors and by fish and milk consumption. To raise vitamin D without supplements (the preferred way), a person could increase sun exposure for 10 to 15 minutes a day. Eating more fish can help — a 3.5-ounce serving of wild fresh salmon has 600 to 1,000 I.U.’s of vitamin D — but it would take a quart of milk a day to get the recommended dose of vitamin D." according to Parker-Hope's article. (I wouldn't recommend that)

Your body produces more vitamin D in 20 minutes of full sun exposure than it can effectively use. Your body also has very efficient regulators that get rid of the excess vitamin D so it does not become toxic. The best way to get vitamin d is naturally- from the sun! When taken orally, your body does not process it the same way and therefore is not getting all of the benefits from sunlight. Additionally, there is no regulation mechanism when vitamin D3 is taken orally, and may become toxic if levels are not monitored. 

Your best bet...10-20 minutes of noon day sun (any more than that use sunscreen) or in the winter indoor tanning. (You will have to be the judge of whether you are comfortable tanning or not, although I go at least 3 times a week in the fall, winter, and early spring.) The goal is not to burn, so gradually work up to 20 minutes outdoors or 10 minutes indoors. If you absolutely do not tan and burn easily, the supplements are available. As always talk to your doctor about how much to take and the level of vitamin D in your blood should be monitored closely. 

Health benefits from regular vitamin D3 production in our bodies include:

Mental Health 
I don't know about you but I always feel better after getting a little sun. Do you ever see unhappy people sitting outside enjoying a beautifully sunny day? 

Bone health
"Without the vitamin D that comes from the sun, your bones could not obtain the calcium they need to be strong," writes Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD in his book The UV Advantage: The Medical Breakthrough That Shows How to Harness the Power of the Sun For Your Health.  Vitamin D deficiency can result in lower bone density and an increased risk of bone loss (osteoporosis) or bone fracture because a lack of vitamin D alters mineral metabolism in the body. 
There is also a relationship between low bone mineral density and sedentary life style. This is evident in frail, elderly subjects because they are often vitamin D deficient and lead an inactive lifestyle. 

Immune system

Vitamin D receptors have been shown to increase the activity of natural killer cells.  NK cells play a major role in the rejection of tumors and cells infected by viruses. They kill cells by releasing small proteins that cause the target cell to die by apoptosis (programmed cell death). Your immune system is an integral component of preventing cancer. 


The basis for thinking that vitamin D has the potential to prevent cancer lies in its role in a wide range of cellular mechanisms central to the development of cancer (rapid out-of-control growth of cells). Dr. Holick claims that they (doctors and scientists) "know for sure that increasing vitamin D levels in our bloodstream via sun exposure, and to a lesser extent diet, will help lower the risk of several diseases- especially those caused by abnormal cell growth, such as cancer." In 1998, Dr. Holick proved in his laboratory that when cancer cells were exposed to vitamin D they stopped growing out of control. This is not to say that if you sit in the sun your cancer will go away. Obviously there are other factors involved in "killing" cancerous cells.   

Cardiovascular disease

A report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey involving nearly 5,000 participants found that low levels of vitamin D were associated with an increased risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD). The incidence of PAD was 80% higher in participants with the lowest vitamin D levels. Cholesterol levels were found to be reduced in gardeners in the UK during the summer months. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increase in high blood pressure and cardiovascular risk. Numerous observational studies show this link, but of two systemic reviews one found only weak evidence of benefit from supplements and the other found no evidence of a beneficial effect whatsoever. What is natural for humans? Meaning what did we do before we had science labs and studies? We sat in the sun! 

When in your own research. Find out for yourself whether this controversial topic is really so controversial. I didn't think so. And remember....DO NOT BURN!!!
Some good books on the subject:
The UV Advantage: The Medical Breakthrough That Shows How to Harness the Power of the Sun For Your Health by Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD
Vitamin D3 and Solar Power For Optimal Health by Marc Sorenson, EdD

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