Known as the “sunshine vitamin” vitamin D is produced by the body in response to the skin’s exposure to sunlight, in particular UVB rays. Vitamin D is essential for many of the body’s functions, including bone health, managing blood sugar levels, protecting against cancer, and enhancing our immune system. However, doctors estimate that nearly 90% of the American population is deficient in vitamin D. Here’s what you need to know:
Sunshine and Vitamin D
The best way to acquire vitamin D isn’t through food or supplements, it’s actually through direct exposure to sunlight. The amount of sunlight you need depends mainly on a few factors: how fair/dark your skin is, the time of year and where you live.
The amount of melanin you have in your body determines how light or dark your skin color is – essentially it gives the skin color. The more melanin one has, the darker his or her skin color will be. Melanin also affects how easily your body can make vitamin D; it protects the skin and is able to absorb rays from the sun. Therefore, the fairer one’s skin color, the easier it is for the body to make vitamin D. Experts generally recommend 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight a day (without sunscreen) for fair to medium toned skins. Darker tones are recommended to spend 40 minutes to an hour in the sun each day to maximize vitamin D production.
The time of year and day also affects your body’s absorption of vitamin D. When the sun’s rays enter the atmosphere at too much of an angle, the atmosphere blocks UVB rays. This happens most prevalently during the winter season. Your shadow is an excellent way to judge if your body is making vitamin D. If it is longer than you are tall, your body isn’t making much of the vitamin. The closer to midday – when your shadow is at its shortest – is the optimal time for vitamin D production. Sunscreen is also very important, so be sure to lather up after appropriate exposure.
Proximity to the equator is also a factor. The rays from the sun become more angled as the distance increases from the equator. Therefore, someone who lives in Boston would need to spend more time in the sun than someone living in Miami.
Doctors may prescribe a vitamin D supplement if deemed necessary. There are several foods that are high in vitamin D including beef, cheese, fatty fish, and mushrooms. Also many foods – milk, breakfast cereals, and yogurt – are fortified with the vitamin.
In conclusion, vitamin D presents the perfect excuse to take a break from your workday and spend a little time in the sun!