We all need vitamin D. People with low levels of vitamin D have significantly higher rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, depression, autoimmune conditions, and more (as if that list isn’t enough!).
And it’s difficult for most people to get enough vitamin D through diet. So people take supplements, but growing research has been beating up on the effectiveness of just about all supplements, and vitamin D is no different. Two recent studies cited in a recent article in Outside magazine showed little if any benefit from vitamin D supplements.
But that’s not a big deal because our bodies have this amazing way of making vitamin D without diet or outside supplements. You just add sunlight. Yes, vitamin D is a hormone manufactured by the skin with the help of sunlight. This makes sense because our cave-dwelling ancestors lived outdoors in tropical regions and weren’t exactly clotheshorses. We produced all the vitamin D we needed by just being outside.
Today we are stuck in cubicles and are indoors most of the time. Plus, we’ve been told to cover every square inch of our body with sunscreen to protect against skin cancer.
Is this creating vitamin D deficiency? That’s the million-dollar question. The Outside magazine article posits that it is, equating the sunscreen industry to the push to replace fat with wonderful artificial substances like margarine. It cites established links showing rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and overall mortality all rise the farther you get from the equator and its ample year-round sunshine. Plus, these rates all rise in the darker months in winter in higher latitudes.
But what of sun exposure and skin cancer? The article and other research show that there is a risk, but it is very small compared to vitamin D deficient problems such as heart disease or osteoporosis. Plus, people lump all skin cancers together, even though melanoma is really the only deadly form.
Also, people who get more sun are usually healthier because they are outside doing stuff, rather than inside sitting on the couch or at their computer day after day.
There rages the argument. Should you stay out of the sun and cover every inch with 50 spf sunscreen? Or should you get the sun you need to make vitamin D in sufficient quantities?
Read the Outside story and other research and draw your own conclusions. But you can do both. You should wear sunscreen, but maybe not always 50 spf. It’s agreed that sunburns, especially those suffered during childhood and adolescence, are bad news and dramatically increase your chances for developing melanoma as an adult. Just don’t go crazy — you need to get some sun. It’s good for you and it elevates your mood, as well. Plus, remember even SPF 15 sunscreen only blocks 93 percent of the UVB rays of the sun, so you can still produce some vitamin D even with it on.
Maybe the best way to think of this is similar to the margarine analogy. Ditching all fat turned into a disaster, as our bodies got fatter because the fats were taken out and replaced with carbohydrates. If you leave a stick of margarine out on your patio birds won’t touch it. Leave a stick of butter out there and it will be scarfed down.
The key is moderation. Eat fats and meats in moderation. Don’t ditch the steak; just don’t have three a week. The same with sun exposure. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors and let your body manufacture the vitamin D it needs. But don’t get sunburned. Like those steaks, take your sun in moderation.
And maybe we don’t all need to be so insane about slathering on sunscreen to every exposed inch of flesh when venturing outdoors for a few minutes.
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