By Dr. Mercola
A growing body of research clearly shows the absolute necessity of vitamin D for good health and disease prevention. However, despite vitamin D’s role in keeping your body ticking along like a well-oiled clock, you are likely deficient in the “sunshine vitamin”—because the majority of people are.
Our vitamin D levels have dropped as a result of being scared sunless by those spreading misinformation that the sun causes melanoma, a myth that survives by mass promotion but really lacks any factual basis. It has been repeated so many times that most people believe it.
Vitamin D affects your biological function by influencing nearly 3,000 of your genes through vitamin D receptors. In fact, vitamin D receptors are found throughout your body, which should come as no surprise, given we humans evolved in the sun.
Recent research1,2 has also revealed yet another benefit of sun exposure beyond the protective benefits of producing vitamin D, namely the production of nitric oxide—a compound that lowers your blood pressure.
According to the researchers, the heart-health benefits from this may outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer. Your vitamin D level varies not only with time of day, season, and geographic location, but also with your genetics.
For example, if you have dark skin, you may need up to 10 times more sun exposure to maintain an optimal vitamin D level as a person with pale skin. Redheads have to be particularly careful, as they appear to be genetically predisposed to developing melanoma, regardless of whether or not they spend time in the sun.
Tens of Thousands of Health Studies Attest to Vitamin D’s Importance
Safely exposing your bare skin to the sun is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels, and is therefore the best protection against melanoma. Sunburn should be avoided at all cost. I recommend reading our article about safe sunning guidelines and listening to the video above for detailed instructions about how to do this safely and effectively.
Vitamin D3 is an oil-soluble steroid hormone (the term “vitamin” is a misnomer) that forms when your skin is exposed to UVB radiation from the sun or a safe tanning bed. When UVB strikes the surface of your skin, your skin converts a cholesterol derivative into vitamin D3. It takes up to 48 hours for this D3 to be absorbed into your bloodstream to raise your vitamin D levels. Therefore, it’s important to avoid washing your skin with soap for 48 hours after sun exposure. In case you do develop a sunburn, immediately apply raw aloe vera, as it’s one of the best skin remedies.
As a general guideline, research by GrassrootsHealth suggests that adults need about 8,000 IU’s per day to achieve a serum level of 40 ng/ml. If you opt for a vitamin D supplement, you also need to boost your intake of vitamin K2 through food and/or a supplement. How do you know if your vitamin D level is in the right range? The most important factor is having your vitamin D serum level tested every six months, as people vary widely in their response to ultraviolet exposure or oral D3 supplementation. Your goal is to reach a clinically relevant serum level of 50-70 ng/ml.
Overuse of Sunscreen May Turn You into a Melanoma Magnet
Following the advise of health officials’ to slather on sunscreen may increase your melanoma risk instead of decreasing it, which is certainly not what you want. Indeed, you never want to let yourself burn. However, if you practice safe sunning, you will avail yourself of all of the sun’s health benefits with none of the risk.
If you do use a sunscreen, please be careful about which product you choose as many sunscreen products contain chemicals you don’t want absorbed into your body. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Sunscreen Guide,21 about 75 percent of sunscreens contain potentially harmful ingredients, such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Avoid products with SPFs higher than 50, and make sure yours offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Keep in mind SPF only protects against UVBs—but it’s the UVAs that increase your risk for skin cancer and are responsible for photoaging your skin. Recall that it’s the UVBs that stimulate your vitamin D production, so you don’t want to block out too many of them.
Using an “internal sunscreen” is an alternative to topical sunblock agents. Astaxanthin—a potent antioxidant—has been found to offer effective protection against sun damage when taken as a daily supplement. It can also be used topically and a number of topical sunscreen products contain it. Some sunscreens are also starting to use astaxanthin as an ingredient to protect your skin from damage. As an alternative, you can cover up with lightweight clothing to protect yourself. Sometimes we forget about the simple things, like simply wearing a hat.
For the latest information about vitamin D, please visit our Vitamin D News and Information page.