Vitamin D

Everyone knows the risks of too much sun exposure, but there are some good things about moderate sun exposure, and one of those is Vitamin D. Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin, does wonderful things like enhance absorption of calcium and phosphate which are essential to the body for bone formation. People can get adequate amounts of vitamin D3 from the sun, hence its nickname, the Sunshine Vitamin.

There are two types of vitamin D –  D3 and D2. In the liver, D3 converts to Calcidiol and then changes in the kidney to Calcitriol, the active form of Vitamin D. Calcitriol runs around in the blood stream as a hormone to regulate calcium and phosphate which are essential for bones. This is especially important in menopausal women to prevent osteoporosis. It also helps the neuromuscular and immune system. Kids that don’t get enough Vitamin D, get a bone disease called Rickets.

Vitamin D was discovered when scientists were trying to find the cause of Rickets in children, seen more in underdeveloped countries.

Recently, during the Big Women’s Health Initiative Study, Vitamin D was found to lower rates of certain cancers; mainly colon and breast cancer.

How do we get enough Vitamin D?
Sunlight is the best way but a little sun goes a long way.  10-15 minutes of sun three times a week is all the sun we need to make the required amount for our bodies. It’s absorbed from sun on your face, arms, legs, and back, and trunk. However, our bodies can’t absorb it with sunscreen on so, after you sun for 10 or 15 minutes, then put your sunscreen on. You may need to gradually increase sun time if you burn easily.  The idea is not to burn. Getting sun through a window will not give you the dose you need. Cloudy days and shade will also cut down on the skin’s production of Vitamin D. If you have dark skin, you’ll need a little more time as well.

Very few foods naturally contain the vitamin. The foods that do have the most are usually fortified with it. This means the vitamins are added to the food like milk, cereals, some yogurts, orange juice. It will tell you on the label. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel have some vitamin D. Beef liver, eggs have small amounts of D.

Your medical provider can do a simple blood test on you to determine your levels of 25 hydroxy vitamin D.  If your level is below 30 that is not enough, while levels greater than 125 are too much.

Levels of 50 nanomoles are the best.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is good to follow as a guideline. As you age you need more than your baby or child. A safe upper limit of supplementation is 4000IU a day. D3 is most recommended. Obviously if you get a little sun you don’t need this much. It’s preferable to have your blood tested before starting supplements. Blood levels of 50- 60 seem to be where the big benefits occur.

So go out and enjoy our beautiful sunshine, but remember avoid burning!

Carolyn has lived in the Florida Keys since 1992, presently practicing at Womankind in Key West and has taught nursing and practiced as a Nurse practitioner since 1979.