Referred to as the “Sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is readily produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. When skin cancer and UV Radiation (UVR) was not yet a health concern, you would find a lot of people spending countless hours outdoors and basking in the sun. But now, many people opt to stay indoors and simply shy away from the sun due to the health risks associated with over exposure to the sun’s UV rays. But did you know that not getting enough sunshine could also be a bad thing?
Risks associated with insufficient Vitamin D
Though the risk of skin cancer is very real, totally avoiding any exposure to the sun also carries with it certain health risks.
Though Vitamin D has many important functions, it is mostly responsible for maintaining bone strength. It helps in the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and a sufficient amount of the vitamin is crucial to maintain the normal growth and development of bones and teeth. If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D, you are at risk of developing bone abnormalities such as osteomalacia (soft bones) or osteoporosis (fragile bones).
Vitamin D also facilitates normal immune system function and helps improve a person’s resistance against certain diseases.
In the 1600s, European children who once lived in confined areas and under layers of clothing had developed rickets, a disease that can cause growth retardation. To prevent and treat rickets, some patients had to undergo whole body sun bathing, mercury, and carbon arc lamps.
In various studies, vitamin D was found to play a role in: reducing the risk of multiple sclerosis (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006), decreasing the chance of developing heart disease (Circulation, 2008), and helping to reduce your likelihood of developing the flu (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010).
How much sun do we need?
You could say that there is delicate balance between getting too much or too little exposure to the sun. It is true that there is always a right time for everything. The same holds true for when sunbathing. For people with fair skin, 10 minutes of sun exposure midday would suffice. However, for people with a darker complexion, at least 15-20 minutes without sunscreen is recommended. It would be good to keep in mind that the sun’s rays are at its strongest between 10AM to 4PM, so early morning sunlight would be preferred.
So next time you think of sunshine, think about getting some Vitamin D.
Mead, M. N. (2008). Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Retrieved from Environ Health Perspect: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/
Kotz, D. (2008). Time in the Sun: How Much Is Needed for Vitamin D? Retrieved from US News: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/heart/articles/2008/06/23/time-in-the-sun-how-much-is-needed-for-vitamin-d
Kids Health. (n.d.). Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day. Retrieved from Kids Health: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/outdoor/sun_safety.html# http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d#Disease3