Up Your Intake of Vitamin D

Edie Leonard, M.S., R.D., L.D., Oncology Dietitian with Providence Cancer Center says that although Vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin,” relying on sunlight for your vitamin D probably isn’t the best strategy.

Under ideal circumstances, if you have lighter skin, you might be able to get enough vitamin D by exposing your arms and legs to the sun for about 10 or 15 minutes a day, a few days a week. If you have darker skin, it would take longer.

The problem is, we don’t get those ideal circumstances all the time – and here in Oregon, hardly ever. A long list of things can affect UV ray exposure and vitamin D synthesis. According to the National Institutes of Health:

• Cloud cover blocks vitamin-D-producing UV rays by up to 50 percent.
• Pollution reduces UV energy by 60 percent.
• Geography plays a big role: Oregon’s northern latitude sets us up for less-intense UV exposure.
• The time of year also makes a big difference: Oregon has four distinct seasons, and only one of them – the one that always seems the shortest – is optimal for UV exposure and vitamin D synthesis.
• Time of day also affects exposure: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the most intense.
• Sunscreen with an SPF of 8 or more blocks UV rays.

In addition, any of the following individual factors may reduce the amount of vitamin D your body makes:
• Dark skin
• Age, especially if you are older than 65
• Digestive problems, such as Crohn's or celiac disease
• Liver and kidney disease

Even under those rare, ideal circumstances – a clear, cloudless, pollution-free summer’s afternoon – who’s to say that it’s safe to expose your skin to UV radiation without sunscreen? Many in the medical field believe that no amount of sun exposure – not even 10 or 15 minutes a day – is safe. The increased risk of skin cancer just isn’t worth it.

So why risk it if you don’t have to? Without any sun exposure, you can easily get some of the vitamin D you need from fish, milk and other foods, and the rest from supplements.

Don’t skip the supplements – your diet probably doesn’t provide all the vitamin D you need. Recommendations vary, but if you need 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day, and a glass of milk provides 100 IU, that’s a lot of milk you’d have to drink. A 3-ounce piece of salmon provides 360 IU, but most of us don’t eat salmon every day.

Vitamin D supplements are widely available in drops, tablets and other easy-to-take forms. Take one daily with your biggest meal, and keep wearing that sunscreen.

 • Learn more about how and why to get enough vitamin D by going to the Providence website.
 

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