The Importance of Vitamin D and Getting a Safe Daily Dose of Sunshine
Missing out on the benefits of vitamin D can be incredibly detrimental to our health and well-being. This is why summer is a key time of year to take advantage of both the warmth and vitamin D’s most abundant source – the sun!
Vitamin D is responsible for our body’s absorption of calcium and phospherous, which are essential for a healthy immune system and strong bones. Vishal Phakey, DO, who sees many patients with vitamin D deficiency, explains how we can safely get our daily dose.
“First and foremost, in order to absorb vitamin D, you need sun. It only takes around 10 to 15 minutes to absorb enough vitamin D for the day,” explained Dr. Phakey, of Voorhees Primary & Specialty Care. “When the skin is exposed to UVB rays, your inner form of vitamin D is converted into the active form. Just remember to keep your face, eyes, and ears protected!”
While sun exposure provides us with vitamin D, if you plan on spending more than 15 minutes outdoors, sunscreen is a must!
“You don’t want to increase your risk for skin cancer just to absorb more vitamin D. On hot, summer days, you should apply your sunscreen before you even head outside,” said Dr. Phakey. “It’s not going to prevent you from absorbing vitamin D; it just makes it a little more difficult and takes a little more time.”
When winter arrives and UVB rays are lacking, it’s helpful to incorporate foods high in vitamin D into your diet, such as fatty fishes (salmon, sardines, and anchovies), canned tuna, mushrooms, and fortified foods, including some dairy products and cereals.
Unfortunately, if you live in an area with long, cold winters, it’s likely that you’ve experienced vitamin D deficiency – symptoms of which include fatigue, bone and back pain, a weakened immune system (constantly getting sick), and even depression.
“In additional to geographic location and distance from the equator, other factors that may increase your risk for vitamin D deficiency include lifestyle, skin tone, gastrointestinal disorders, and old age” said Dr. Phakey.
After diagnosing a patient as vitamin D deficient, Dr. Phakey will either order a prescription-strength supplement, or suggest an over-the-counter multivitamin or supplement.
If you aren’t aware of, or don’t receive medical help for vitamin D deficiency, there can be severe, long-term health impacts. Because less vitamin D results in less calcium absorption, it can lead to osteoporosis, brittle bones, fractures, and Rickets disease in children.
“A safe dosage of vitamin D is typically 400-800 international units,” continued Dr. Phakey. “The older, or more deficient, you are, the higher your supplement needs to be. Check with your doctor before taking any supplement for the first time.”
If you accidentally take more vitamin D than suggested, there’s no need to worry. It’s incredibly rare to take too much of this vitamin, explains Dr. Phakey, as you’d have to absorb or consume over 60,000 international units for several days. This could result in kidney failure, stomach pain, or hypercalcemia, which may cause weakened bones, cardiac complications, mood changes, and more.
Although the sun might not always provide all the vitamin D you need, it’s a great way to get it naturally when you have the chance. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of vitamin D deficiency – which can occur anytime of the year – don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor.