Important Reasons to Get More of the Sunshine Vitamin

Debbie Melvin  |  7/30/2010 1:59:51 AM

This summer has been unbearably hot, but if we seek shelter indoors, we may be missing out on some great benefits of the sun. Vitamin D is produced in our skin when we get unprotected exposure to the sun. Though we certainly want to take precautions against overexposure, we need at least ten minutes, three times a week for the necessary conversion of vitamin D to take place. Talk to your health care provider about unprotected sun exposure. Not everyone in the scientific community thinks that even a little sun is a good idea, because of the risk of skin cancer.

Food can provide vitamin D, but it is difficult to get 1,000 IUs of vitamin D from your diet alone. It is not found in many foods, and a increasing number of experts and vitamin-D researchers think that Americans are not getting enough of it. Only a few foods, such as fatty fish, liver and egg yolks actually contain vitamin D naturally. Other foods, such as milk and cereal, are fortified with vitamin D.

A vitamin D supplement may be necessary, but not all supplements are alike. A multivitamin-mineral supplement typically contains 400 IUs of vitamin D. Many supplements contain a form called D2, which is a less potent form of vitamin D. It is also less expensive. You are better off using a supplement that contains D3, made from fish oil, lanolin or a chemical conversion of cholesterol. This form is much better absorbed by the body, but it can be harder to find and more expensive. Check the supplement label or inquire with supplement manufacturers to find out whether they use D2 or D3 if the label does not specify. Vitamin D is often added to calcium supplements, because it helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so take your supplement with a meal containing some fat to enhance absorption.

Emerging research suggests that vitamin D has an anti-cancer benefit. It may stop the growth and progression of cancer cells and be beneficial during cancer treatment, too. Vitamin D may also protect against breast, lung, ovarian, stomach, bladder, esophageal and kidney cancers. Vitamin D influences the functions of hormones related to diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression and premenstrual syndrome. Some research shows that a vitamin D deficiency can interfere with the "fullness" hormone leptin, which signals the brain that you are full and should stop eating. Vitamin D helps control the inflammation involved with periodontal disease, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. It also plays a role in a strengthening your immune system, especially in autoimmune disorders.

Whether we choose to get a little sun, eat foods containing vitamin D, take a supplement, or a combination of these, it is worth the effort.  

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