Catch Some Rays

The glistening summer sun is here with a bone health must-have. Enjoy the outdoors and get your vital daily dose of Vitamin D.

Sources of vitamin D:

Sunlight Exposure (<1 hour)                                                                                                       3,000 – 20,000 IU
Cod liver oil (1 tbs.)                                                                                                                         1,360 IU
Fortified Multi-vitamin                                                                                                                 400 IU
Fresh, farmed Salmon (3.5 oz.)                                                                                                 100 – 250 IU
Tuna in water (3.5 oz.)                                                                                                                   179 IU
Fortified Whole Milk and orange juice (8 oz.)                                                                  100 – 140 IU
1 egg yolk or fortified cereals (1 cup)                                                                                    41 IU
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced in the body when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and activate it synthesis. It’s also present in very few foods, added to others and available as a dietary supplement. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of Calcium, Zinc and Phosphate; these minerals enable the body’s natural mineralization and growth of bones. Without the right amount of vitamin D, bones become thin or brittle and increase the risk of Osteopenia and Osteoporosis. Low levels also cause muscle weakness and increases your risk of chronic diseases.

The major, most natural source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Dark skin color, lack of outdoor activities and sunscreen are among the main factors that cause insufficient sunlight exposure and vitamin D synthesis. It is suggested that approximately 10-30 minutes of sun exposure between 10AM and 3PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen should lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis. Wearing sunscreen protection of 8 or more reduces vitamin D synthesis in the skin by more than 90%. People with darker skin tones require three to five times longer exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as a person with a light skin tone. Despite the importance of sunlight for vitamin D synthesis, it’s prudent to limit exposure of skin to sunlight UV radiation due to it’s carcinogen effects responsible for most skin cancers in the United States.

Other sources of this vital nutrient are dietary supplements and a few foods. Vitamin D3 is the best kind of supplement to take with the daily-recommended amount of about 600 UI (international units). These come in a number of different forms, such as tablets and capsules. Most people can easily absorb them in either of these forms. Plus, they don’t have to take it with a meal or worry about what time of day to take it.

The foods that naturally contain vitamin D are limited but there are many that are fortified with it. Most foods that contain vitamin D only have small amounts, so obtaining enough from natural food sources alone is difficult. For example, 8 oz. of fortified whole milk have only 10% of the daily recommendation. In contrast, direct sunlight on the skin makes thousands of units of vitamin D naturally in less than an hour of non-burning exposure.

Foods high in antioxidants can boost your immunity and the ability to process sunlight. The best practice is to pack your diet with antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to protect your skin from the inside out. Egg yolks, broccoli, spinach and kale are rich in the antioxidant Lutein. Often recognized for its benefits to the eyes, Lutein can help protect your skin from sunlight UV damage as well. Another group high in antioxidants are the ones high in Carotenoid, including carrots, orange peppers, squashes and sweet potatoes. These foods are high in Zeaxanthin and Beta Carotene, which boost the skin’s ability to protect itself from sunlight damage. Vitamin E is another strong antioxidant that reduces the inflammation caused by UV exposure. Almonds, avocados and fish oils are good sources of vitamin E. In summary, add color to every meal, especially dark green and orange fruits and vegetables and foods that increase your daily antioxidant levels. Give your skin a helping hand while it synthesizes all of the Vitamin D your bones need to stay strong.

Lastly, even though sunlight is the best and more natural way to get your vitamin D, do not over do it. Most importantly, always avoid sunburn! Instead, go outdoors for a walk and expose your skin to sunlight without sunscreen for no more than 30 minutes 3 times a week. Smell the roses and get your vitamins. Doctor’s orders!

By Dr. Iris I. Mercado, EdD, CDN