Friday, March 23, 2012
Vitamin D and Sun Exposure: Weighing the Risks and Benefits
According to the National Center for Health Statistic’s March 2011 data brief, entitled “Vitamin D Status: United States, 2001-2006,” one-third of Americans are at risk for vitamin D inadequacy and 8% are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D, which is vital for the maintenance for healthy bones and osteoporosis prevention, is synthesized by the skin in response to exposure to the sun.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 80%-90% of the vitamin D in our bodies comes from sun exposure. This fact has some of us wondering about the risks and benefits of sun exposure. The unseasonably warm and sunny spring in the Midwest has tempted many of us to venture out into the sun earlier in the year than usual, but keep in mind that NIH warn that the risk of skin cancer from UV rays outweighs the benefits of increased vitamin D production. They recommend using sunscreen and protective clothing when going out into the sun for more than a few minutes, and instead relying on dietary intake or supplementation to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D.
There is some controversy over what constitutes adequate daily intake, but current recommendations from the Institute of Medicine are 200IU daily until the age of 50, 600IU for pregnant and breastfeeding women, 400IU daily for people aged 50-70, and 600IU for those over 70 years of age. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, mushrooms, and vitamin D fortified foods, or by taking vitamin D supplements. To prevent osteoporosis, rather than getting some rays, the NIH suggests not smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, getting regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet with enough vitamin D and calcium. For more information, see: