As we grow more and more concerned about harmful UV rays and the risk of skin cancer, we are taking better precautions when outdoors. Sunscreen, extra clothing, and avoiding the sun all help to keep you protected from UV rays. The side effect of all this is that we are seeing more people with vitamin D deficiencies.
Vitamin D is an important component to overall health. Your body uses vitamin D to manage the amount of calcium in your blood, bones and gut. There is also new compelling research that shows that Vitamin D plays a important role in how our immune system functions. Vitamin D is unique in that your body makes the vitamin when your skin is exposed to sunlight. There are some foods that will provide small amounts of vitamin D, but you likely won’t be able to get the amount that your body needs just from food.
Vitamin D Deficiency
When your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D to keep it healthy, this is called a vitamin D deficiency. In severe cases, this can result in soft, thin, and brittle bones (called rickets in children and osteomalcia in adults).
People with darker skin are more at risk for vitamin D deficiency because darker skin requires more sun to get the same amount of vitamin D as fair-skinned people. It is also more common to see vitamin D deficiencies in people who spend a lot of time indoors during the day and in people who cover their skin all of the time.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are not always apparent but will sometimes appear as tiredness and general aches and pains. Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to hair loss. I often hear people finding out about a deficiency through a routine blood test during an annual exam with their physician. In severe cases there may be pain in your bones and frequent infections. Your physician can offer a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D Sources
Sun exposure is the natural source of vitamin D but as a dermatologist I wouldn’t suggest exposing bare skin to the sun in order to increase your vitamin D levels. There is a healthy balance – moderate but frequent sun exposure is ok but when your exposure to the sun becomes too intense, the risk of skin cancer increases dramatically. If you do plan to spend more time outside for the benefit of vitamin D, don’t over-do it. You don’t need to get a tan (or sunburn), in fact your body can produce a large amount of vitamin D in a short amount of time.
Fun fact: If your shadow is longer than you are tall, you’re not making much vitamin D (the angle of the sun’s rays are resulting in the atmosphere blocking the UVB part of the rays).
Supplements are a good way to get vitamin D when you are worried about exposing your skin to the sun. Your physician can provide a specific recommendation on the amount you would require. I use Adora Calcium Supplements (purchased from Whole Foods) which provide a boost of D3 to help absorb calcium. These provide an added bonus of a nice chocolaty treat! How do you supplement Vitamin D in your diet?
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