Let the sun shine in, and get some D

We live in an era of sun phobia — that is, not being exposed to any direct sunlight — that’s being promoted widely by the dermatology community.

Although the evidence is overwhelming that excessive sun exposure causes skin cancer, that message needs to be modified and moderated to a more sensible approach so that people can get a bit of safe sun.

If you go to the literature where people are talking abut sunlight and cancer risk, nobody mentions that you need sun for vitamin D. By the same token, if you go to the vitamin D literature where people are talking about skin irradiation to get vitamin D, nobody talks about cancer.

Emerging research indicates that vitamin D is more important to our health than previously thought. Vitamin D’s main function is to maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood — making it a vitamin that affects nearly every tissue in the body. It plays a role in regulating cell growth, the immune system and blood pressure, and in the production of insulin, brain chemicals and bone.

Folks like us who live in northern latitudes often don’t get enough sun from December through February to make vitamin D. When winter sets in and the days grow shorter and temperatures drop, people head indoors, often trading the running trails for the treadmill, the garden for the library.

A sensible and workable strategy for me has been a balance of modest sun exposure (15 to 20 minutes between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily), on a food-first approach by consuming vitamin D-rich foods (cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, fortified milk, orange juice, etc.). If I’m outside for longer than 20 minutes during the day, I apply sunscreen on exposed skin.

Some folks take vitamin D supplements, with experts recommending 1,000 IU daily for everyone. I’ve also read recommendations of 200 IU for ages 0-50, 400 IU for ages 50-70, and 600 IU for older than 70. Taking too much vitamin D can elevate levels of calcium in the blood, a potentially serious condition. Talk to your doctor before consuming large doses.

Brighten your day and strengthen your body by letting the sun shine in.