Should you forgo your sunscreen while you're getting sun kissed? Read on to learn how to keep up with your vitamin D needs while staying safe.
It's the paradox of sunscreen. When you dutifully slather on the SPF 30 before heading outside on a sunny day, you're protecting your skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. But you're also preventing those rays from prompting your skin, liver, and kidneys to make an essential vitamin—vitamin D.
For more than 90 years, vitamin D has been known to play a role in bone health. But new research suggests that vitamin D may have many other health benefits. According to Sari Greaves, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, vitamin D may play a role in reducing the risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Emerging studies are examining the effects of higher doses of vitamin D on depression, type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D occurs naturally in a few foods, such as salmon, egg yolks, and liver, and many other foods are fortified with it. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine deems a vitamin D intake of 2,000 international units per day to be adequate for adults aged 50 and younger; older people need more. In light of new research, those recommendations are currently under review.
But many Americans aren't getting enough even by the current recommendations. By some estimates, as many as three out of every four Americans aren't getting enough vitamin D. While some nutritionists recommend seeking vitamin D by going outside for 10 or 15 minutes without sunscreen on a sunny day, dermatologists argue that's neither a safe nor reliable way to ensure adequate vitamin D levels. "This is something that gets under my skin, literally," says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist who is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology and a co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.
"It's mind-boggling to me that anyone would increase a risky behavior that's known to cause cancer when they can take an inexpensive supplement that works beautifully," says Tanzi, who herself takes supplements because she had low levels of vitamin D.
The bottom line? Read the label of your multivitamin to see if it contains the daily value of vitamin D, and ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels at your next physical, if you're concerned. And don't forget your sunscreen and hat when you head for the beach.