In the midst of this beautiful summer, make sure to take a small break from the daily grind to do a little sun worshipping — for your health! The UVB rays from the sun are bursting with protective vitamin D, an important nutrient for your bones, your heart, your immune system and your happiness. So get outside and D-light in the healthful benefits of the sun!
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because the majority of our D intake comes from UVB sunrays (in the form of vitamin D3). A handful of foods, such as fatty fish and egg yolks, contain vitamin D naturally, yet our main food source of the vitamin, milk, is fortified with D2 to protect us against deficiency. Fortification began in the 1920s to prevent children from developing rickets and adults from developing osteomalacia, both skeletal diseases that damage the bones. Today, rickets is relatively unheard of, but the need to get your daily D is still vitally important.
The benefits of vitamin D
Over the past few decades, vitamin D research has begun to explode and the findings are both intriguing and exciting. It appears that vitamin D has many protective health benefits. For example, studies suggest that vitamin D may prevent the development of colon cancer and breast cancer while preliminary evidence suggests that high doses of the vitamin may be beneficial in the treatment of prostate cancer.
Vitamin D is proving to be an important contender in the fight against heart disease. A German study found that high doses of D lowered inflammation in study participants, an underlying cause of congestive heart failure. In a Harvard Medical School study, participants who were vitamin D deficient were twice as likely to have heart attacks and strokes than participants who had adequate vitamin D blood levels. And yet another study linked low vitamin D levels with hypertension, noting that blood pressure is often elevated in the winter when exposure to the sun is most limited.
Metabolic syndrome (also known as Syndrome X) has been strongly linked to vitamin D deficiency. One study out of Spain found that 61% of participants who had metabolic syndrome were also D-deficient. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by cardiovascular disease, abdominal obesity and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
The relationship with Vitamin D and diabetes doesn’t stop there, however. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that lower blood levels of D were associated with a greater degree of insulin resistance. Not surprisingly, recent studies indicate that patients with type 2 diabetes had improved insulin sensitivity after supplementing with vitamin D.
When it comes to skeletal health, vitamin D has always been an important factor and multiple research studies continue to prove just how significant the connection is. Vitamin D is vital to strong, healthy bones and maintaining normal levels of the vitamin may actually prevent osteoporosis. A D-deficiency is associated with hip fractures and bone loss and it has been estimated that roughly half of those being treated for osteoporosis have lower-than-adequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.
So, who is in danger of becoming vitamin D deficient? 90% of my patients are deficient in vitamin D, so chances are, you are too. A D-deficiency can occur if your dietary intake of the vitamin is inadequate, if you have limited exposure to sunlight or if your body cannot process vitamin D appropriately. People with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, liver disease or who have had part or all of their stomach removed may also be deficient in the vitamin. As we age, the body is less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, therefore older individuals may also be at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Getting your daily dose of vitamin D is as easy as stepping out into the sunlight and drinking in the rays. Here are a few things to keep in mind when enjoying the warmth of the sun:
1. Begin with just a few minutes of exposure, until you have a pink foundation. Never let your skin burn.
2. Sunbathe with clean skin, free of lotions, soaps, perfumes or cosmetics.
3. Do not use sunblock — the production of both vitamin D and melanin pigmentation are UVB dependent.
4. Use sunscreen only after you’ve had proper sun exposure and you are going to be in the sun for extended periods of time.
5. Reduce sun exposure when you are in the snow, white sand, or high altitude locations.
6. Do not exceed the safe daily limits. Put on a hat and the proper clothing, and a sunscreen that contains a physical sun block, such as titanium dioxide.
I encourage everyone to have their vitamin D blood levels tested for sufficient levels of the sunshine vitamin. Your doctor can monitor your blood levels to determine the dose appropriate for your individual needs. In addition to daily exposure to the sun you may need to supplement with cod liver oil or vitamin D3 (the form most readily available to the body). Check with your doctor to find out how much you should be taking before you begin to supplement with vitamin D.
Vitamin D is vital to your health and as necessary as food, water and sleep. Take time out of your day everyday to enjoy the healing benefits that the sun has to offer. A sunny disposition makes for a lifetime of good health!
About the author
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D. has specialized in Integrative Medicine for over twenty years, using conventional and natural methods to determine and discover the “root of the cause” in her clinic, Center for New Medicine in Irvine, California, each and every day. Many people come in to the clinic from all over the world with severe chronic illnesses that conventional medical protocols have been unsuccessful treating. She realized early on that she can truly change lives through education as well as treatment protocols.
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D. and her medical staff strives to look at the whole person while exploring the effects and relationships among nutrition, psychological and social factors, environmental effects and personal attunement.