According to Dr. John McDougall, Vitamin D is unusual in two ways. First, it is actually a hormone and not a vitamin, even though we call it a vitamin. And second, we get it not from eating food, but rather through exposure to sunlight. Not everyone lives in sunny Florida or California, so depending on where you live, you might need to work a little harder to get enough sun to manufacture needed levels of this essential hormone.
If you take calcium pills or consume dairy foods, there’s a good chance some vitamin D has been added. The problem is that both of these practices are linked to many serious health concerns. Dr. McDougall states that the answer to increasing your vitamin D is easy: go outside. Sunshine is the best way to get your vitamin D, which safely and effectively prevents weak bones. As your skin soaks up ultraviolet sunlight, it produces vitamin D with the help of the liver and kidneys. The average person living in the US produces about 90% of their vitamin D from sunlight, and only about 10% from food or supplements. Your body stores extra vitamin D during the sunniest months, and slowly releases it during the darker months.
How much sun do you need? For white people, exposing a large part of the skin to the summer sun for 20 – 30 minutes at one time provides about 10,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D (see note below about sunscreen). The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, and the National Institutes of Health, both recommend 200 IUs per day, so you can see that 10,000 units is far more than enough. In spring, summer and fall, exposing the hands, face and arms to the noontime sun for only 5 minutes, 2 -3 times per week, is plenty for light-skinned people. People of Asian or Indian descent may require 3x as much sun under similar conditions, and those of African descent may need up to 10x in order to produce enough vitamin D.
What about supplements? Dr. McDougall warns that taking vitamin D supplements may actually increase your risk for certain diseases due to nutritional imbalances, and should be considered as the last resort. Even dosages which are considered “safe” have been shown to contribute to increased LDL cholesterol, certain cancers, immune system suppression, kidney disease, gastrointestinal issues, and may actually hurt bones. But for those who must take Vitamin D supplements, such as the elderly who are unable to get outdoors, 200 IUs per day should be adequate (a far cry from the recommended levels of 2,000 – 4,000/day). Dr. McDougall contends that “normal values” for vitamin D have become exaggerated, and that the current standards are too high; he lists plenty of recent scientific literature references which backs him up.
What about sunscreen? Dr. Michael Hollick, Ph.D., M.D., criticizes the use of sunscreen in order to avoid all sun exposure. A sunscreen with SPF of 8 reduces the ability of the skin to make Vitamin D by 92.5%. Sunscreen with SPF 15 reduces it by 99%. Dr. Hollick agrees with the common medical assessment that somewhere between 30 and 80% of the American population is Vitamin D-deficient. He also agrees with the research showing that people with lower Vitamin D levels are at higher risk of developing many conditions, including cancer. However, he does not recommend the use of supplements, fortified foods and oily fish to compensate for this deficiency.
Other advice: Dr. Pam Popper, Wellness Forum founder, says it is important to get at least 15-20 minutes of sun exposure every day possible without the use of sunscreens. Sunscreens contain dangerous chemicals that are carcinogenic and may, in fact, be partly responsible for the increase in skin cancer rates. Burning of the skin is harmful and should always be avoided. For those who expect to spend more time in the sun, start early in the season and build your tolerance for sun exposure. After the maximum exposure that you can tolerate without burning, cover up with loose clothing.
Lastly, to protect yourself against skin cancer, consume a “Plan A” diet that is low in fat and high in antioxidant-rich foods. There is strong evidence that diet has a profound effect on the development or prevention of skin cancer, which is not surprising since we know diet has an effect on all types of cancer. If you would like more information on this topic, or to be added to my newsletter, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. (Sources: The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall; The Wellness Forum Health Briefs)