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What you should know about the sun and vitamin D

What you should know about the sun and vitamin D

Have you ever wondered why your mood dips during the winter? It’s because there’s less sunlight. There’s a connection between the sun and vitamin D that impacts our health year-round, but especially at that time of year.

Time in the sun encourages the production of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in keeping the body functioning at its best.

Here in New Orleans, we’re in the time of year where there’s abundant sunshine and warmer (OK, hot) weather. Take some time to soak up the sun, but first soak up these facts about the sun and vitamin D, courtesy of University Medical Center New Orleans.

Why the body needs vitamin D

What’s the purpose of vitamin D? It has many purposes! We mentioned above that a lack of sunlight (and lower vitamin D production) is associated with mood changes. That’s one purpose of vitamin D: to regulate mood and decrease the risk of depression.

Vitamin D also contributes to bone health. You probably know that calcium is necessary for building and maintaining strong bones, but did you know that your body can’t properly absorb calcium without vitamin D?

This essential nutrient also keeps the immune system functioning at its best and helps protect the heart. There’s even some evidence that it lowers the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

Soak up the sun—and vitamin D

When your skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun, it produces a preliminary form of vitamin D that’s then turned into the active form of the vitamin by the liver and kidneys. That’s why vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin.”

How much sun do you need to get the right amount of vitamin D for optimal health? Not much, actually! As few as five to 10 minutes of sun exposure a day can jumpstart the process of producing vitamin D.

While sun exposure is a fast path to vitamin D production, too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause sunburn, signs of skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. If you’re seeking the vitamin D-stimulating properties of the sun, limit yourself to no more than 10 minutes in direct sunlight without sunscreen.

Other ways to get the vitamin D you need

Are you at a high risk of skin cancer? Spending time in the sun without sunscreen may not be worth the risk to you. If that’s the case, there are other ways to get the vitamin D you need.

Even when you’re wearing sunscreen, you’ll get some of the benefits of sun exposure when it comes to vitamin D. Research has found that there’s little connection between sunscreen use and vitamin D deficiency, so slather on your sunscreen when you head outside.

You can also get vitamin D through your diet. Are you a fish lover? Many types of fish contain vitamin D. These include:

  • Flounder
  • Herring
  • Rainbow trout
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tilapia
  • Tuna

You can also find vitamin D in shrimp, mushrooms, many dairy products, dairy alternatives such as soy, almond and rice milk, and fortified orange juice.

At your next checkup, have your vitamin D level checked. If you’re found to be vitamin D-deficient, your primary care provider may recommend vitamin D supplements.

Proceed carefully with supplements. While it’s not possible to overdose on vitamin D from the sun (or usually from foods, either), you can get too much from supplements. Vitamin D toxicity can be dangerous, so only take as much as your provider recommends.

Wondering whether you’re getting enough vitamin D? Schedule a checkup with your primary care provider for a look at your vitamin D level and other helpful health numbers.