The following is an archived post
Vitamin D is quite unique. Both a vitamin we consume and a hormone we make, it is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because the process of making it in our bodies is initiated by sunlight hitting our skin (and is ultimately synthesized in the kidneys).
We can also get vitamin D from food sources. But the truth is, it’s actually pretty difficult to get adequate vitamin D from foods. Few foods are actually good sources (fatty fish like tuna and salmon are!), and most of those sources are fortified (like dairy products and breakfast cereals). Because of this, vitamin D has recently been the subject of much research and discussion.It is thought that 1 billion people worldwide have low blood levels of vitamin D. This is especially problematic for those living in northern latitudes where the type of sunlight exposure necessary for adequate vitamin D synthesis isn’t up to par for the majority of the year.
We need about 15 minutes of this “quality” sun exposure. Even then, older adults, those with darker skin, and those that are obese are still at risk for inadequacy. Another issue is sunscreen. While protecting us from the sun’s harmful rays, it also inhibits vitamin D synthesis when the rays contact the skin. But we need to make sure we are getting sufficient vitamin D now more than ever. New research shows that vitamin D has multiple important functions in the body. Not only does it help us absorb calcium and preserve bone health, it plays a role in muscle health, heart health, immune function, and even cancer prevention.
What are we to do? Talk to your doctor about vitamin D. You can ask your physician to check your levels and discuss supplementation. In the meantime, try to incorporate some foods with vitamin D into your diet — and next time you’re in the sun, expose your arms and legs for about 15 minutes prior to putting on sunscreen, especially those Northerners!