Skin Experts Say: Supplements, Not Sun, a Better Vitamin D Source
As our understanding about the many important functions of vitamin D grows, people are wondering now more than ever about how to safely get enough. The American Academy of Dermatology recently weighed in on the issue, advising in favor of using supplements rather than sun to boost vitamin D levels, partly to avoid unnecessarily increasing skin cancer risk.
Vitamin D—vital for health
In a public statement, the Academy acknowledged the growing body of evidence showing that low vitamin D levels increase our vulnerability not only to osteoporosis but also to a wide range of health problems that includes autoimmune and neurological diseases, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
The body requires sun exposure in order to make vitamin D, and people who live in northern latitudes, have dark skin, use sunscreen, or cover up when outdoors due to concerns about skin health or for cultural reasons tend to have low levels. While getting more sunlight can bring up vitamin D levels, it does so at a cost: increased risk of skin cancer. For this reason, the Academy recommends that people get their vitamin D from nutritional sources and dietary supplements, and not from unprotected exposure to cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning devices.
Supplements the safer source
“Vitamin D is essential for optimal health, and the medical literature supports safe ways to get it—a healthy diet which incorporates foods naturally rich in vitamin D, fortified foods and beverages, and vitamin D supplements,” stated dermatologist C. William Hanke, MD, MPH, FAAD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “And, according to the medical literature, unprotected exposure to UV radiation from sunlight (natural) or indoor tanning devices (artificial) is not safe.”
Fortified cold cereals, milk, fruit juices, margarine, and nondairy milks like soy and rice milk are important vitamin D food sources. Fish and fish oil are naturally rich in vitamin D, and small amounts are found in egg yolks, beef liver, cheese, and some mushrooms. In addition, vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and widely available.
The Academy recommends taking sensible precautions to prevent UV radiation overexposure when spending time outdoors:
• Seek shade whenever possible.
• Wear sunscreen.
• Cover up with a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves, pants, and sunglasses.
They also recommend that people avoid tanning beds.
How much is enough?
To answer this question, the Academy refers to the guidelines set forth by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine for vitamin D intake: 200 IU per day until age 50 and 400 IU per day for people over 50.
They note that these recommendations could be revised upward in response to the growing body of research demonstrating vitamin D’s benefits. For example, in 2007, the Canadian Cancer Society began recommending 1,000 IU per day during the fall and winter months for all Canadian adults and throughout the year for people at high risk of deficiency.
People with questions about their risk of vitamin D deficiency and appropriate supplementation should consult with their health care providers.
December 31, 2008
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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