Confused about Vitamin D and Sun Exposure? A Patient’s Dilemma

Merely Me Health Guide
  • Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine” vitamin because the body produces it when exposed to sunlight. The dilemma is that many of us are not getting much sunshine because we have been dutifully protecting our skin from the sun. We have been told to avoid the sun or to put on sunscreen each time we go out to prevent getting skin cancer. So what may be happening as a result is that a lot of us are becoming Vitamin D deficient. And I am one of those people.


    In the same week I visited both my general practitioner and my dermatologist. Both doctors had something to say about Vitamin D.

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    My dermatologist gave me a print out of a fact sheet from the American Academy of Dermatology entitled “Don’t Seek the Sun: Top Reasons to Get Vitamin D From Your Diet” which you can view by following the link.  My dermatologist made it clear to me that I should not be seeking sunshine to get my Vitamin D.


    When I got my annual physical, my GP ordered blood work to test my vitamin levels. And lo and behold I was found to have a Vitamin D deficiency. Makes sense to me. I am very cautious about the sun due to my fair complexion and tendency to freckle and get moles.  I rarely if ever sit out in the sun and when I do I slather on the sunscreen.


    Here is the letter from my doctor: “Your Vitamin D levels are quite low. This can contribute to a variety of medical conditions (cardiac, bone and mental health issues are commonly related) and is relatively common as it is primarily received through the sun and diet. I recommend 20-30 minutes of ambient sunlight at least 3x/week along with taking 50,000 IU of Vitamin D once a week.”


    So basically one doctor is ordering me to avoid the sun and the other doctor is prescribing a three times a week regimen of sun exposure without the use of sunscreen. What is a patient to think or do?


    Like many of you I turned to the Internet for information about this topic. All I had to do was stay right here on Health Central to find all sorts of interesting information and resources about Vitamin D and Vitamin D deficiency. I had no idea that a Vitamin D deficiency could cause so many health related problems.


    Check out this list:


    • “Low Vitamin D Level May Increase Risk of Death


    Low Vitamin D Levels are linked to Depression.


    Vitamin D is important for good bone health.


    Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to heart disease. 


    • It is common for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome to be deficient in Vitamin D.


    • Carol Bradley Bursack reports that Vitamin D helps with brain functioning on Our Alzheimer’s site.


    • Last but not least, David Mendosa of our Diabetes site reports in his post, “How Much Vitamin D?”that: “Too little vitamin D is also linked to diabetesmultiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and breast cancer  and prostate cancer, according to the February 2006 issue of “The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter.”


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    Guess who has Multiple Sclerosis in addition to depression? That’s right, me again. So again my Vitamin D deficiency makes a lot of sense.


    So how much sunlight do we actually need to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D? And be sure to note that this means exposure to the sun without sun block.


    CNN Health says it takes just 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight a day to make an adequate amount of Vitamin D.


    CNN Health says it takes just 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight a day to make an adequate amount of Vitamin D.


    The Mayo Clinic reports that:“For most people, 15 minutes of direct sun exposure a couple of times a week is sufficient for proper vitamin D production.”


    • My personal GP has recommended that I get 20-30 minutes of exposure to sunlight three times a week.



    But can’t we get Vitamin D from our diet and supplements?


    Some people say yes but especially from supplements. CNN Health reports that the “…dietary reference intake for vitamin D is 200 international units per day (IU/day) for adults ages 14 to 50, 400 IU/day for adults 50 to 71, and 600 IU/day for those older than 71.”


    Food sources for Vitamin D include: Cod liver oil, fatty wild fish like salmon and mackerel, Vitamin D enriched milk, orange juice, and cereal, dried shitake mushrooms and egg yolks.


    But some medical professionals like Doctor Frank Lipman say that you could never get enough Vitamin D from food alone and that you would need to eat at least five servings of salmon a day or drink 20 cups of fortified milk in order to get your proper intake of Vitamin D.


    Dr. Lipman is one person who feels that getting Vitamin D from the sun is one of the most efficient methods as most of us make approximately 20,000 units of vitamin D after only 20 minutes of summer sun.


    Which leads us right back to: “What is a patient supposed to do in order to get the appropriate amount of Vitamin D? “


    I think it does come to making a personal decision based upon balancing the research, doctor’s recommendations and common sense about what is right for you. It is terribly confusing as there are definite health risks to having a Vitamin D deficiency but there are also possible risks for skin cancer by exposing your skin to the sun without the use of sunscreen. And too, the amount of sunlight needed varies depending upon where you live (north or south of the equator) and the season. With supplementation you know you are getting exactly what you need without the risk of skin cancer.


    After all I have learned about skin cancer I am going to attempt to get my Vitamin D mainly through vitamin supplementation and diet. It has been too engrained in me to always use sunscreen.


    What are your thoughts? Do you feel that a limited amount of exposure to the sun is good for us or does it still put us at risk for skin cancer? How do you get your Vitamin D? Let us know your opinions. We want to hear them!

Published On: April 12, 2010