Vitamin D Controversy

We all know that Vitamin D is a crucial part of our well being. Vitamin D is a unique vitamin that most people don’t get enough of. As we all now know, majority of us are vitamin D deficient. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to serious health consequences, including osteoporosis, cancer, depression, muscle weakness, and sometimes even death. In addition, only a handful of foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D. These include cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and sardines. That said, you would need to eat them nearly every day to get enough vitamin D. The best way to get Vitamin D is naturally. Vitamin D can be most easily absorbed from the sun as long as our Kidneys and Liver are fully functional, if not, no amount of supplements will bring our range up. This vitamin is made from cholesterol in your skin when it’s exposed to the sun. That is why getting enough sunlight is very important for maintaining optimal vitamin D levels. However, too much sunlight comes with its own health risks. But it can be a bit confusing to say how long and for whom too much or too little sun is affecting. There are lots of factors from geographic location to skin colour. Midday, especially during summer is the best time to get sunlight. At noon, the sun is at its highest point, and its UVB rays are most intense. That means you need less time in the sun to make sufficient vitamin D. Many studies also show that the body is most efficient at making vitamin D at noon. For example, in the UK, 13 minutes of midday sunlight exposure during summer three times per week is enough to maintain healthy levels among caucasian adults. Melanin helps protect the skin against damage from excess sunlight. It acts as a natural sunscreen and absorbs the sun’s UV rays to defend against sunburn and skin cancers. However, that creates a big dilemma because darker skinned people need to spend longer in the sun than lighter skinned people to produce the same amount of vitamin D.

Darker skinned people may need anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours longer to get sufficient vitamin D, compared to lighter skinned people. This is a major reason why darker skinned people have a higher risk of deficiency. People living in areas farther away from the equator make less vitamin D in their skin. In these areas, more of the sun’s rays, especially UVB rays, are absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer. So people who live farther away from the equator usually need to spend more time in the sun to produce enough. Some scientists recommend exposing around a third of the area of your skin to the sun. According to this recommendation, wearing a tank top and shorts for 10–30 minutes three times per week during the summer should be sufficient for most people with lighter skin. People with darker skin may need a bit longer than this. People use sunscreen to protect their skin against sunburns and skin cancer. That’s because sunscreen contains chemicals that either reflect, absorb or scatter sunlight. When this happens, the skin is exposed to lower levels of harmful UV rays. However, because UVB rays are essential for making vitamin D, sunscreen could prevent the skin from producing it. In fact, some studies estimate that sunscreen of SPF30 or more reduces vitamin D production in the body by about 95–98%.

If done properly, you should have no problem with sun exposure. However, we can always overdo it. Below are some consequences of too much sunlight:

Sunburns: the most common harmful effect of too much sunlight. Symptoms of a sunburn include redness, swelling, pain or tenderness and blisters. Eye damage: long term exposure to UV light can damage the retina. This can increase the risk of eye diseases like cataracts. Aging skin: spending too long in the sun can cause your skin to age faster. Some people develop more wrinkled, loose or leathery skin. Skin changes: freckles, moles and other skin changes can be a side effect of excess sunlight exposure. Heat stroke: also known as a sunstroke, this is a condition in which the body’s core temperature may rise due to too much heat or sun exposure. Skin cancer: too much UV light is a major cause of skin cancers.

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