Sunshine, Funny Looks, and the Benefits of Vitamin D

The locals were quite amused by our strange behavior; while we soaked up the rays like grass after a long winter, we looked around and saw curious smiles behind smart phones raised to capture the moment.

A Little Triangular-Shaped Sunshine

For 2 years I worked in a part of the world that seldom sees the sun due to the local climate and extreme air pollution. On the rare day when the clouds parted and the sun briefly shown through, my family and I would rush out of our apartment to the sidewalk below, and bask in a small, triangular-shaped sunny spot created by the angles of the surrounding high-rises.

The locals were quite amused by our strange behavior; while we soaked up the rays like grass after a long winter, we looked around and saw curious smiles behind smart phones raised to capture the moment.

Scientists agree that the sun is pretty important. Without it, well, life wouldn’t exist. And depending on where you live, the time of year, and your lifestyle, you might not be getting enough of it.

You Need "UVB" to Get Your "D"

The sun (more specifically, UVB rays) works with our bodies to produce vitamin D, a vitamin that is unique because it is found only in a few foods (see a sampling below). And a recent Harvard Medical School Health Report suggests that while most Americans are not “deficient” in vitamin D by definition, there is potential “insufficiency.”

Why We need Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our bodies grab and use calcium from food in our digestive systems. Without enough vitamin D, our bodies will harvest calcium from bones regardless of how much calcium we consume. Vitamin D works with calcium to build strong bones, teeth, and muscles.

Researchers studying a Mayo Clinic database also found a link between depression and low levels of vitamin D, especially in subjects with a history of depression.

Another study suggested that higher vitamin D levels have been linked to lower risk of colon cancer and heart disease.

How to Get Your Vitamin D

The Harvard Medical School Health Report recommends getting your vitamin D from foods (rather than supplements if possible) and modest sun exposure (just avoid a sunburn). About 5-30 minutes of sun between 10am and 3pm at least twice a week without sunscreen is usually sufficient.

As for the potential increase in skin cancers due to UVB exposure in an effort to generate vitamin D, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of skin cancers are not fatal, and some analyses suggest that any increase in skin cancer from adding a small amount of unprotected sun exposure would be offset by declines in other forms of cancer. - Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H, Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Interesting Vitamin D Facts

  • Fatty fish is the main food source of vitamin D.
  • Since the 1930s, milk has been fortified vitamin D to combat “rickets,” a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency that leads to weak bones. Other dairy products typically are not fortified with vitamin D.
  • People who live north of a line between San Francisco, CA, and Richmond, VA cannot make any vitamin D from sunlight between November and March because of the angle of the sun.
  • African Americans are especially prone to vitamin D insufficiency.
  • Like other fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin D is stored in fat tissues and liver, and is released as needed. Therefore, toxic levels can build up when taking high doses of supplements. However, it is very rare to get too much from just food.
  • The recommended dietary intake of vitamin D is 600-800 International Units (IU) per day. The recommended maximum amount is 4000 IU per day.

Selected Food Sources of Vitamin D

 

FOOD INTERNATIONAL UNITS (IU)
Salmon, cooked, 3 1/2 ounces 360
Mackerel, cooked, 3 1/2 ounces 345
Tuna, canned in oil, drained, 3 ounces 200
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 1 3/4 ounces 250
OJ fortified with vitamin D, 8 ounces 100
Milk fortified with vitamin D, 1 cup 98

*Source - USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference 

 At GoFamz.com, we are passionate about health and fitness and we work hard to find useful and accurate information for our readers. However, none of the GoFamz team are doctors. We recommend speaking to a qualified medical professional for questions about nutrition.

Brian DeLay

Brian DeLay is an airline pilot living in the Midwest with his wife and three children. As an avid runner and cyclist he has completed numerous half-marathons, marathons, and cycling "century" rides, and serves as the race director for the Run for the Ridge 5K. His favorite activities are those he shares with his family. Visit Brian on Google+