Could sunscreen be making us sick? Vitamin D: Not just for bone health

While long recognized as necessary for bone health and strength, Vitamin D is known to aid in the absorption of calcium from the intestine, maintaining adequate calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, supporting regrowth of bone and preventing a form of tetany caused by too little calcium in the blood.  Recent research indicates that Vitamin D also provides protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), some types of cancers (such as colon, breast  and prostate), inflammation and some autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.  Vitamin D deficiency may be a major factor in depression, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, periodontal disease, osteoarthritis, heart disease, stroke and reduced immune function.  Recent studies indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common in our population, especially in adults, who often do not drink milk or eat cereal and who spend little time in the sun.

Vitamin D, which is actually a steroidal hormone, is found naturally in some dietary sources, including fish, beef liver, egg yolks, some cheese, and cod liver oil. In the United States, Vitamin D is usually added to certain foods, such as milk, cereals and some types of yogurt, margarine and orange juice.  The best source, however, is exposure to the sun’s UV radiation, especially UVB rays. Vitamin D actually refers to two different chemicals, Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).  Vitamin D3 has the most profound and long lasting effect for human health.

When Vitamin D was first discovered in the early 20th century, it was found to be a key factor in the development of Rickets, a childhood disease of weak bone development.  At that time, a recommendation of about 200 IU per day was determined as optimal for proper bone development.  That has been the FDA’s recommendation since that time. With the advent of new research linking Vitamin D to many other functions and diseases, newer recommendations are being determined to promote healthy functioning.  It is reported that the new minimum recommendation will be 1000 IU per day.   While many foods are fortified with Vitamin D, the best source of Vitamin D for human beings is exposure to the sun.  How much exposure is still being debated.  But, it is known that many things are preventing humans from producing enough Vitamin D,  including:

  • Amount of sunscreen used and SPF level
  • cloud cover
  • shade vs direct sun exposure
  • smog
  • amount of pigment in skin
  • time of day of sun exposure
  • season and latitude
  • Glass (UVB radiation does not penetrate glass)
  • Some medications, such as Corticosteroids (such as Prednisone), weight loss drugs (including Xenical and Alli) and cholesterol lowering drugs (such as Questran, LoCholest and Prevalite)

According to the Vitamin D Council, a nonprofit organization promoting research and education about Vitamin D, it is important to determine if your Vitamin D levels are sufficient to promote health and healing.  The only way to determine your level is to have your blood level of one form of Vitamin D, 25(OH)D or Cholecalciferol, checked.  This test can be ordered by your physician and blood drawn in a lab.  You can also order a home test that uses a heel or finger stick and discuss the results with your physician or health consultant.  Based on the results, you can then determine if you need additional supplementation of Vitamin D.

While Vitamin D has long been known as The Sunshine Vitamin, it is only in recent years that it’s true function in the body has been discovered.  Taking charge of your health by knowing your Vitamin D levels and supporting your body with proper amounts is key to maintaining your good health.


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