Las Vegas annually boasts the unique distinction of being one of the world’s best places for experiencing the most sunny days. But for many, enjoying the sun’s rays merely means sneaking in and out under the shade of umbrellas and lathering on sunscreen with the highest SPF lotions that can be found. But is that necessarily a good thing for your health?
The answer to that question is based on how much vitamin D you get. Three out of four Americans today aren’t getting enough vitamin D, and the ramifications from that deficiency could be severe. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of D: It aids calcium absorption, keeps us agile as we age, and may even fend off those pesky colds. The vitamin D deficit has been linked to everything from cancer to diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
A University of Manchester study found that adolescent girls with higher levels of vitamin D have stronger muscles and can jump higher than their peers.
A Creighton University study revealed that adequate levels of vitamin D could significantly cut your risk of cancer.
Cardiovascular disease can also be significantly decreased with vitamin D according to the American Heart Association.
And while one eight-ounce serving of orange juice is all you need to get your daily fill of vitamin C, to get enough vitamin D you’d need to drink ten tall glasses of milk or eat seven pounds of wild salmon- every single day.
“There is essentially no vitamin D in your diet,” says Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Boston University. His surprising solution? Embrace the sun again- sans sunscreen.
Our body synthesizes vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight, but high-SPF lotions block the ultraviolet rays needed for its production. The UV triggers a form of cholesterol in our skin that is converted into D in our kidneys.
“Different skin types and diets make everyone’s sun needs unique,” says Robyn Luca, M.D., Ph.D. But generally, “short sun exposure of more skin is a lot safer than longer exposure on just your face and hands.” Even the American Cancer Society is getting on the bandwagon, recently issuing a joint statement with the Canadian Cancer Society that concluded “supplementation and small amounts of sun exposure are the preferred methods of obtaining vitamin D.”
Many health experts recommend that 3 to 10 minutes of sun exposure with 40% of your skin bared, twice a week during the summer is enough to get almost a year’s worth of vitamin D. (If you’re out any longer than that, apply sunscreen.)
Still, lounging in the sun is never safe for some. If you have a fair complexion or a family history of skin cancer, experts advise to stick to nonsolar vitamin sources. Also, if you have dark skin (which, like sunscreen, impeeds vitamin D synthesis), aim to get 1,000 international units (IU) a day through vitamin supplements. Most multivitamins contain only 400 to 600 IU of D, so you many need to add an extra tablet of pure vitamin D to your daily intake.
So, popping pills may be your best way to get your vitamin D fix, but for many the controlled basking under the Las Vegas sun may be just the ticket for maintaining good health- unless of course you want to eat seven pounds of salmon daily.