Wearing sunscreen is becoming more important as the ozone layer continues to be depleted and the atmosphere protects you less from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. But now researchers are finding that protecting yourself from the sun’s UV rays with sunscreen also blocks the sunlight’s natural ability to cause vitamin D production in your body. Don’t worry – here’s how you can continue helping to prevent developing skin cancer while getting your daily vitamin D.
Why Is Vitamin D Important for Your Health?
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient your body needs for good bone health, mental health, and disease prevention. Your bone cells need vitamin D to build, strengthen, and maintain your bones. Without vitamin D, your bones can become brittle, and you may develop rickets or osteoporosis. Why? Because vitamin D contributes significantly to your gut’s ability to absorb calcium, and it also controls how much phosphate and calcium are circulating in your blood. Without vitamin D, insufficient calcium and phosphate would be accessible to your bone cells.
Vitamin D has also been linked with lowering inflammation and boosting your immunity. Not getting enough vitamin D has been linked with an increased chance of catching colds and flus. Doctors also found that supplementing with vitamin D can shorten the severity and length of a flu or cold significantly.
Vitamin D has also been linked with cancer. Researchers found that people with higher concentrations of vitamin D are 50 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer. There is similar evidence for vitamin D intake and prostate and breast cancers.
Vitamin D also plays a significant role in your cardiovascular health. Researchers found that low concentrations of vitamin D increase your risk for heart disease by 60 percent compared to someone with high vitamin D levels. In fact, you’re 300 percent more likely to develop hypertension if you have chronically low levels of vitamin D compared to if you’ve kept your vitamin D levels high.
If you’re trying to lose weight or want to stay fit, researchers found that healthy vitamin D levels play a critical role. They found that most obese and overweight people have lower concentrations of vitamin D. What’s even more interesting is that they found that women who lost weight also experienced an increase in their vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D may also be linked with diabetes. When nondiabetic patients were given 700 IU of vitamin D with calcium for three years, they experienced lower fasting plasma glucose levels.
Vitamin D has also been found to help treat depression. Clinically depressed patients who supplemented with vitamin D for one year experienced better scores on depression tests. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked with cognitive impairment.
There are many more diseases that have been linked with low levels of vitamin D, including Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune disorders. In fact, high levels of vitamin D decrease your risk of developing multiple sclerosis by 62 percent compared with if you had chronically low levels. It becomes obvious from the extensive evidence and findings that vitamin D is integral to your holistic health, and having chronic low vitamin D levels can put you in danger.
How Do You Get Your Daily Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is mainly made by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. The sun’s UV radiation catalyzes a reaction that lets your skin convert compounds into inactive forms of vitamin D that then get converted to active forms by your tissues, liver, and kidneys.
You can also get a little vitamin D from eating fish, liver, eggs, and yogurt. Because vitamin D is found in little amounts in Western diets, most commercial products, like cereals, milks, and baby formulas, are fortified with vitamin D.
But most of these commercially processed foods and dairy products (except yogurt) are high in cholesterol, and not at the healthy end of the spectrum. If you’re a health buff, you’d most likely stay away from foods fortified with vitamin D – which leaves you relying on sun exposure as your main vitamin D source.
Are You at Risk for low Vitamin D Levels?
Given vitamin D’s difficult sources, it explains why the overall population’s vitamin D levels have been declining in recent years. With advancing technology, people are staying indoors more. And as people become more health-conscious and start avoiding dairy products, they consume less dietary sources of vitamin D.
But some groups of people are more at risk for low vitamin D levels. Experts found that vegetarians, vegans, and people with milk allergies or who are lactose intolerant have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency because they’re avoiding diary sources of vitamin D. Breastfed infants have a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency because their mothers aren’t supplementing with enough vitamin D for both her child and herself.
Researchers found that people with darker skin pigmentation are at risk for chronic low levels of vitamin D. Ninety-five percent of African Americans have been found to be vitamin D deficient.
Doctors also warn those with chronic gastrointestinal disorders that affect absorption of nutrients to increase their vitamin D intake. Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and other conditions can lower your vitamin D absorption from food. Over time, this can lead to lower levels of vitamin D.
If you spend most of your time indoors throughout the week (working at the cubicle or at your home computer and only exercising at the gym or your home gym), you also run the risk of chronic low vitamin D levels if you aren’t supplementing with more vitamin D from food.
As you get older, your body makes less vitamin D. If you’re getting up there in years and aren’t eating more dietary sources of vitamin D or staying in the sun longer, then you risk having chronic lower levels of vitamin D.
But Now Scientists Discovered That Being in the Sun Isn’t Causing Enough Vitamin D Production
As if getting vitamin D wasn’t hard enough – new findings suggest that staying out in the sun might give the false sense that you’re giving your skin what it needs to make vitamin D. Dr. Kim Pfotenhauer states in a clinical review published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association that wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater blocks so much of the sun’s UV radiation that it lowers your skin’s sun-catalyzed vitamin D production by 99 percent!
That means that if you’re being responsible and health-conscious by protecting yourself from skin cancer by wearing sunscreen everytime you plan on exposing yourself to the sun’s harmful UV rays, you’re also practically cutting off a source of vitamin D without even knowing it.
But does that mean that you should stop wearing sunscreen or wear lower SPF protection? No!
Here’s What You Must Do to Get Your Daily Vitamin D Without Sacrificing Skin Protection
Wearing sunscreen is mandatory if you’re going to spend time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. The sun’s harmful UV radiation can cause skin cancer and speed up signs of aging (like wrinkles, lines, and roughness of your skin).
But what should you do about your sunscreen blocking 99 percent of your skin’s vitamin D production? You can up your dietary intake of vitamin D by incorporating your own vitamin D-infused mushrooms into your daily diet.
The American College of Healthcare Sciences says that if you place your grocery-bought mushrooms on a sunny windowsill for a couple of hours, they’ll start making vitamin D via similar chemical processes that happen when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
Any mushroom will do, but different mushrooms produce varying levels of vitamin D. For example, every 100 grams of portabella mushrooms make 835 IU of vitamin D. You should choose mushrooms based on their nutrition and not their vitamin D-producing capacity. Among the top picks are shiitake and chaga mushrooms, which have some of the highest antioxidant activities and are being investigated as potential supplemental cancer therapies.
Eating your naturally vitamin D-enriched mushrooms as a dietary source of vitamin D is the solution that lets you up your vitamin D levels without resorting to eating more mercury-contaminated fish or unhealthy dairy products, or exposing yourself to more harmful UV radiation.
Mushrooms are vegan-friendly and a clean source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which do wonders for your brain and heart. They’re also filled with antioxidants and nice sources of some vitamins and minerals.
Unlike dairy products, these holistically healthy properties are why health buffs encourage you to incorporate mushrooms into your daily diet as a replacement for proteins sourced from meat, which have been found to increase your risk for cancer by 13 percent. (Whereas mushrooms’ antioxidants fight cancer.)
You can also take a daily vitamin D supplement, but here you run the risk of a vitamin D overdose if you don’t watch your dosage. Vitamin D supplements are also less economically savvy than mushrooms because all you’re getting is pure vitamin D without the additional natural nutrients of mushrooms, which are cheaper than the supplements.
Now that you’re more aware of vitamin D’s role in your holistic health, you should up your dietary intake by mixing your sunbathed-mushrooms into your daily salads and meals. Continue wearing sunscreen because it protects your skin from cancer and accelerated aging from contact with the sun. If you’re breastfeeding an infant, it’s important to double your vitamin D intake because you’re the main source of your baby’s vitamin D.