Ah, sunning yourself, something I love to do, and I thank my Dutch mother for modeling the (now scientifically understood) health-promoting act of sticking your face in the sun for 10-15 minutes a day no matter what the season or temperature. However, over the years you may have gotten in the habit of avoiding the sun, layering on high-SPF sunscreens, and/or wearing hats all in an effort to effectively protect yourself from skin cancer. You do, of course, want to protect yourself from cancer, but the recent findings on vitamin D may convince you that actually getting some sun is more effective.
Vitamin D — first of all, is not a vitamin, but a hormone. And, your body creates it in your skin when the sun’s rays shine directly on it, and not, as is true for all vitamins, uses or creates it from what you eat. This is one of the current hot topics in the nutrition world – with lots of new research coming out deepening our understanding of what this essential nutrient is and how crutial it is to our health. The bottom line is much more is needed than we thought, the vast majority of us are deficient, and many, many illnesses from MS, to cancers, to the common cold are more likely with low levels of vitamin D.
I live in northern Vermont. We specialize in winter up here. I actually like it, but the sun does not play a big role for a good 5-6 months of the year (yes, your math is correct, that is about half the year). So, this past winter, knowing how important vitamin D is, I did my best to put my face, and if the temperature allowed, also a hand or two, in the sun for just 10 minutes a day on most days. Yes, it was often cold; yes, the sun was often blocked by some clouds; and yes, I skipped snowy and totally raw, cloud-covered days, but in the end, I felt like I was doing myself some good. In late February, I had my blood levels tested — my vitamin D levels were low (25.3 ng/mL, where 32 is currently considered the lowest level of the threshold for optimal health). Sobering. At this time of year, I would expect my level to be low, but I didn’t think I would enter the “flag” column of my blood work report. Time for a new plan. Good thing spring and summer are on the way.
Then, today I read still more new information, so incorporating that into the plan, it looks something like this:
1. Get thee outside, and enjoy the sun’s rays directly on your skin, that means holding off on the sunscreen at least for 10-15 minutes. This is definitely the best way to give your body the vitamin D that is needs, and depending on your lifestyle and where you live, perhaps enough. Just make sure you don’t burn.
2. For most of us, it is not enough. So, take a vitamin D supplement. I have been taking 1000 IU day in a multivitamin, and will stay at this level through the fall, but will most likely increase during the winter months.
3. I get some addition through my fish oil supplement. For the greatest available vitamin oil, take cod liver oil.
4. Animal products (fish, eggs and milk, in my case) from animals who spend time outside in the sun. Look for “pasture-fed” or “pasture-raised” meat, milk, dairy-products and eggs. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the “added vitamin D” on conventional milk cartons. I’d rather eat food that naturally contains nutrients, than those with nutrients synthetically added in.
5. And then, what I learned today — shower less. Yes, sounds irrelevant and unhygienic, but get this — the part of your skin that converts sunshine into usable vitamin D is on the surface of your skin (makes sense, where the sun hits it), and it may take as long as 48 hours for the deeper layers to absorb the goodness! That means, if you spend time outside, and come in and shower with soap, you may be washing all the D away. Apparently, rinsing with water has a less draining effect, but lather up with soap and you deprive yourself of your daily D. So, wash well the important parts, but hold off on the rest.
For more information on this, including an explanation of the difference between ultraviolet A (which makes you tan, but actually blocks vitamin D) and ultraviolet B (needed to create vitamin D) rays, you can check out my source:
And relax in a sunny spot during your lunch hour today, knowing you’re doing your body good.