Tag Archives: vitamin d deficiency

Shielding Too Much From The Sun

safe sun practices

Based on a poll conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation, 42% of people reported that they get sunburned at least one time each year.

Sunburns over the years result in basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are known as nonmelanomas. Melanomas, however, form from intense sun exposure that results in skin blisters. According to the American Cancer Society, over 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States. And although melanomas compose less than 2% of all skin cancers, they are by far the deadliest.

The sun, however, isn’t the villain when it comes to our skin: the imbalance between sun blocking tactics and adequate sun exposure is the true issue. Yes, too much sun exposure isn’t good for you. We’ve all been there at one point in our lives (some more than others) when you notice the redness and pain in a patch of skin. As the days move on the skin-fried area will blister and the skin will begin to peel.

Ouch!

But the skin will heal, eventually. The bigger problem is when continual sunburn gives way to skin cancer.

Skin Cancer is Often Missed

Skin cancer believe it or not is often treatable. Unfortunately, many people miss the telltale signs of skin cancer: discolored skin patch, new mole, scaly areas, pigmented area under fingernail. There are many signs that point toward skin cancer; the American Academy of Dermatology offers an exhaustive list of things you should look out for.

Since a list exists, why aren’t more people noticing these skin changes to catch cancer early on? Well, for one, it’s hard to examine certain places on your body such as your back. So in that instance, it’s a good idea (especially if you’ve been out in the sun a lot) to get someone else to check your back for you. If your family member notices anything while checking your back for any skin patches or pigmented areas, you should bring it up to your doctor for a professional opinion.

Once you notice a change in your skin texture or color, watch it over time, even if your doctor says it’s nothing. Just look at it: if it’s in an area that’s hard for you to see, ask someone else to check it out for you. Keep track of any changes: does it worsen? has it started to ooze? is it bleeding? what do you notice about the shape?

It’s All About the D-light!

The sun feels great on our skin, which is why people flock to beaches and lounge poolside when the summer weather kicks in. Yet, the sun is feared by many because of its ability to burn your skin and trigger normal skin cells to become cancer cells.  For many folks who fear the sun’s damaging effects, they never leave home without slathering loads of sunscreen, carrying umbrellas to block the sun, and wearing both large-brim hats and sunglasses.

The sun has gotten a bit of a bad rap. The problem isn’t the sun but the way people tip the scale toward either extreme. Think of a playground seesaw. If two kids of similar weight each sit on one end of the seesaw, then the seesaw is balanced. Once an adult trades places with one of the kids the seesaw is no longer balanced. That’s what happens when too much sunscreen is slathered on — people block out the sun’s production of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is made when the sun hits the skin. Sunlight triggers a series of reactions in skin to produce vitamin D. So if the sun is blocked by powerful SPFs people become deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is associated with bone strength; however, the nutrient has many other healthful benefits: enhances immunity, prevents cancer, reduces sunburn, and protects against conditions such as heart disease.

When it comes to sun exposure, too little means vitamin D deficiency and too much spells sunburns and skin cancer risk. Engage in sun safe practices: the goal year-round is to allow your skin to get a limited amount of sun exposure before putting on your sunscreen, so you’re not blocking sunlight completely. For more information, check out the American Cancer Society’s tips on sun protection.

Getting “D” Good Stuff

Smiling Woman Facing the Sun

Vitamin D is necessary for our survival. Thankfully, the body can manufacture its own vitamin D with some help from the sun, of course. When we expose our skin to the sun, the UV light that touches our skin ignites a cascade of reactions that allow the body to make vitamin D. The downside of the body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D is that most people live in places that get very little sunshine for several months out of the year. In particular, winter months not only see less daylight but people also spend very little time outdoors.

A limited number of food sources naturally contain vitamin D like animal liver. Because of this some foods, such as dairy products, are fortified with vitamin D to widen the dietary options. Relying on food is not enough, especially if you know you’re not getting that much exposure to the sun. To understand why vitamin D is crucial for good health, let’s take a look at what it does:

  1. Strengthens bones
  2. Enhances the absorbability of other important nutrients (e.g., calcium and phosphorus), which aid in maintain strong bones
  3. Protects the cardiovascular system
  4. Improves brain activity
  5. Boosts immune function
  6. Prevents cancer

With a list such as this, it’s no wonder why sun exposure makes us feel good. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in vitamin D for various reasons:

  • Sunscreen use – yes, blocking harmful UV light protects against skin cancer; however, it also blocks your body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D. Thirty minutes a day of sunlight at least two times a week is adequate for building up vitamin D levels. (Be sure to use sunscreen for the remainder of the day.)
  • Diet – a processed food diet filled with unhealthy carbs won’t provide you with anything but calories
  • Age – older adults have low levels of vitamin D because the body’s ability to make it declines with age
  • Skin tone – melanin, a substance that gives skin its pigment, is a natural sunscreen; this is mainly why African Americans with darker skin tones will have low vitamin D levels
  • Location – where you live can influence your ability to make vitamin D: people who live in northern latitudes can’t produce adequate amounts of vitamin D for most of the year because of limited daylight during winter months. Vitamin D can be stored during summer months for use during the winter. However, because many factors affect vitamin D absorbability, most people exhaust their vitamin D reserves if they rely on sun exposure alone.

Vitamin D does many good things for the body, but many factors limit its production too. Low vitamin D levels are particularly dangerous because it increases the likelihood of heart disease and cancer. It’s also been shown to increase the development of breast and prostate cancers and metastasis (the spread of cancer). The low vitamin D–cancer association stems from a host of mechanisms—one being the vitamin’s inability to activate natural killer (NK) cells, which are immune cells. NK cells block microbial and cancer cells by stifling their growth and spread throughout the body. Healthy vitamin D levels promote cancer cell death by increasing NK cell activity.

Vitamin D is crucial for good health on a number of levels. It’s likely, however, that you’re not getting enough vitamin D by relying on diet and sun exposure. While foods such as cereals and milk are fortified with vitamin D, other dietary sources are quite limited (e.g., eggs, mackerel, salmon, tuna). Food, however, is not enough: which is why I recommend vitamin D supplements to my patients. As a matter of fact, I don’t absorb vitamin D as well and take it as a supplement to maintain my vitamin D levels at a healthy range. Before you start taking vitamin D supplements, visit you doctor and ask to have your levels checked. If you’re deficient, speak with you doctor about a high-quality grade brand of vitamin D. Because most people have desk jobs or work indoors, it’s important not to eat your lunch at your desk or in the office kitchen, whenever possible. Go outside, enjoy your lunch, and soak up some sun. It’s the key to strong bones, a robust immune system, and heart health.