Are we more concerned with getting sunburned than with our Vitamin D status?

In this article, I want to take another look at Vitamin D and our epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble steroid that is used throughout the body for many processes. Some symptoms of deficiency are commonly known while others may be new concepts. We take Vitamin D to help balance calcium that is taken from and stored in the bones. Immune function relies on Vitamin D to keep infection at bay. The vitamin also plays an important role in mood, autoimmune disease, obesity, and likely, most chronic disease. It is also vital to brain development.

Vitamin D synthesis starts in the skin and concludes in the kidney with an endocrine transfer that distributes the vitamin to tissues throughout the body. With this mind, we can consider why so many people have Vitamin D deficiency. Sometimes, Vitamin D deficiency simply results from inadequate intake; other times, deficiency can be due to the body’s inability to utilize the Vitamin D it has absorbed. About half of the patients with the MTHFR mutation or methylation defect also have a defect in their Vitamin D receptors, which causes suppression of Vitamin D production in the body. Cytochrome P (CYP) in the liver can also activate receptors and deactivate the Vitamin D molecule. Even from the simplified biochemical explanation here, you can see that the body’s system of utilizing Vitamin D is rife with complexities and details.

Adding to Vitamin D deficiency issues is the trend of doctors instructing parents to keep their kids out of the sun. We smother our kids with sunscreen so they get very little sun absorption. This is not to suggest that we allow our kids to get sunburned during a long outing in the sun! Rather, we must reach a balance to ensure that little bodies adapt to tolerate the sun in regular doses from an early age – this way, our children are less likely to burn as they get older. In fact, we can reach our daily levels of recommended Vitamin D intake before we are even close to the sunburn level. It is estimated that it takes roughly half the time to reach satisfactory intake levels as it does to burn, which ranges from about 15 minutes for fair skin to two hours for dark skin. So save the strongest versions of sunscreen for the hours of 11 am to 3 pm, or the middle of the day, when children are in direct sunlight, and allow modest exposure otherwise. Even individuals with a history of skin cancer can increase the anti-oxidant levels in their skin, without increasing their risk for skin cancer reccurrence, through moderate sun exposure. For those times that do call for sunscreen, beware that some chemicals in poorly-formulated sunscreens can actually increase risk factors of skin cancer, as can sunscreens that only block UVB waves (and expose you to dangerous UVA radiation). Be sure to look for natural ingredients and make sure the product you buy protects against both UVA and UVB.

The founder of the Vitamin D Council has observed that three epidemics have started since our society has been taught to shelter kids from the sun: asthma, autism and autoimmune conditions. Parents put many resources into their children’s treatments for these serious conditions. As a naturopathic physician, I have been able to reverse the complications of these ailments in many of my patients. For instance, kids with asthma respond very quickly to natural treatment and often go off inhalers and steroids within the first month after visiting me. Autism, interestingly, is more common in households of higher socioeconomic status as parents with higher education tend to follow more strictly medical persuasion to keep kids out of the sun. Avoiding the sun altogether really is a new idea for the human race, as is sunscreen.

In countries with normal exposure to the sun, mean natural Vitamin D levels are 46 ng/mL of blood. The ideal concentration of Vitamin D in the blood depends on factors such as individual risk and illness, and can vary widely. In general, 46 ng/mL is a good number for which the already healthy should strive. Some studies show that Vitamin D can be washed off the skin within 12 hours of exposure simply by bathing. While sunbathing is the preferred method of getting Vitamin D, you can also get it from supplements and some limited food sources like reindeer meat, seagull eggs, lard, cold water fish, sun dried mushrooms, grass-fed meat, eggs and milk.

Finally, I’d like to address briefly the issue of medications and sun exposure. If you are in the sun while taking certain medications, you may experience a phototoxic reaction caused by interaction between the sunlight and the free radicals in the medication. This interaction may cause sunburn, rash or hives. There are several medications that can cause sun sensitivity. The most common are antibiotics such as tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones; anti-depressants acting as SSRIs or tricyclics; NSAIDs such as Advil, Aleve, Celebrex and Motrin; and diuretics. Your doctor will warn you to stay out of the sun for 48 hours after taking these medications. It is wise to avoid the sun when you have no choice but to take these particular pharmaceuticals.

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Comments

  1. Oh how interesting, I’ve just found out I have an MTHFR defect. I also have low viatmin D (despite living in Australia!) but I hadn’t drawn the link before.

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