Week 16 – Get Out and Make Some Vitamin D

Have you ever stopped to think about how happy and peaceful you feel when you sit outside in the sun and soak up its energy?  Perhaps, after being cooped up inside for several hours, you step outside and when the warm sunlight hits your face you close your eyes and breathe a contented sigh. As the sunlight removes the chill from your skin and bones and also from the recesses of your mind, you relax and feel a sense of peace. Why does it feel so good? Perhaps because we need the sun every bit as much as a plant needs sun.

I’ve spent the past two posts talking about vitamin D and we have seen that the most potent source of vitamin D is found in our skin and is triggered by sunlight. Doing this research has convinced me of the importance of getting out in the sun several times each week – or as often as weather on the Maine coast will allow. No pill can provide the many benefits of sitting in the sun for short periods.

I do plan on making vitamin D responsibly. That means that I will spend as many days as possible getting a light dose of sun. In all of the reading I did for “Vitamin D – Part 1” and “Vitamin D – Part 2” it was mentioned somewhere that those who have constant, light to moderate sun exposure have less chance of developing skin cancer than those who try to get all of their sun during a one week vacation or by heading to the beach one day a week. In fact, it seems that those who frequently get a little sun are less likely to get some forms of skin cancer than those who avoid the sun altogether.

With my skin type I figure on a total of 40 minutes of sun per day – 20 minutes on each side. That should be enough to develop a light tan very slowly. The goal is to keep the tan to a minimum because the darker the skin gets, the harder it is to make vitamin D. On the days we spend on the water (I belong to a boating family) I will probably try to cover up after about an hour.

My goal is to try to increase my 25(OH)D levels (see Vitamin D – Part 2 for an explanation) from the paltry 24 ng/ml that I had at the end of winter to well above 50 ng/ml by summer’s end. I would really like to see 75 ng/ml. I plan on attempting to do this without any supplements – including fortified foods which are just foods with supplements added to them. I will, however, try to eat salmon a couple of time each week along with eggs and shiitake mushrooms. I will spend part of the middle of every sunny day outside for the rest of the summer. Even in the summer, when you live as far north as I do, UVB rays are only strong enough to trigger the vitamin D reaction during the few hours around high noon.

By the end of September in New England it is difficult to make any vitamin D at all and once school starts I won’t have many opportunities to get outside anyway, so I will probably have another 25(OH)D test then to see what my level is heading into the dark months of winter. Depending on how high the vitamin D is I may have to start taking supplements to keep my level over 50 ng/ml and give my immune system a fighting chance as we head into the cold and flu season.

If you are thinking of trying this, please be mindful of a couple of things: wear UV-filtering sunglasses to protect your eyes, remember your face is constantly exposed and  might need to be shaded by a hat or covered with sunscreen more often, and keep the doses of sun exposure light! Sunning in a bathing suit will allow you to make more D in a shorter amount of time simply because you’ve put more skin cells to work.  If the only time you have to get out in the midday sun is during your lunch then get out and eat your lunch in the sun!

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