I was talking with a few classmates the other day and they brought up getting Vitamin D from the sun during the middle of the day, and I added a few points from my experience from what I’ve learned over my career as a human being. I remember getting scared about how bad the sun was as a kid, and that you could get skin cancer from sunburns so you needed to wear a ton of sunscreen (and leave some on your nose), and, for lack of a better term, this is where I stand now, and this is why.
Since people’s eyes cross when anyone talks science (including my own), here’s the easiest way explanation that I’ve heard regarding the process of “getting Vitamin D”.
In our bodies, Vitamin D:
- promotes the absorption of calcium and promote bone growth
- has a wide array of physiological and, maybe more importantly, mental health effects
When the sun is at an angle of elevation that is greater than 31.5 degrees (could be between 30-35, but we’re splitting hairs at that point), UVb rays are present, which hit bare skin and can be converted to Vitamin D3. This is a process involving the liver and kidneys using 7-DHC, which is a cholesterol precursor (one of the many reasons that you need cholesterol).
So, long-and-confusing-explanation short, UVb sunlight rays are converted to Vitamin D3 by your body when the sun is high enough in the sky. Our bodies can also “get” vitamin D3 through our eyes, some materials of clothing, and then also through diet and supplementation. An optimal level is daily intake is measured in 5000-8000 IU’s (international units) per day.
(Not to get negative, but it is estimated that 80% of Americans have low Vitamin D3 levels, and low levels have been linked to cancers, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, as well as inability to control hormone levels that regulate mental well-being. Hmm… do you think that maybe adequate Vitamin D3 levels could promote a higher level of overall health and function rather than relying on medications? And since we’re on the subject, more people are affected per year from heart disease and stroke than from melanoma (going back to the whole “sunscreen as a kid” thing), so layer up with clothing once you feel like you’ve gotten enough sun for the day).
So, in the interest of brevity, get out in the sun during the middle of the day, and pop that shirt off if you can (share your gift!). Once you’ve gotten “enough” sun for the day, just layer up once you’ve gotten enough sun and put on a hat. If you can’t get out in the sun, or you live somewhere that the sun doesn’t rise above a 31.5 degree elevation on a given day (which is most of the US during the winter months), look into taking a daily Vitamin D3 supplement. Don’t wear sunscreen (harmful for the skin) if you can help it, but educate yourself on how long you can safely stay in the sun before you start to burn to help your body with this natural process.
To do this, I downloaded an app called dMinder a few years ago. The app takes into account skin tone, and then lets me know when I can get Vitamin D from the sun, approximately how much I can convert to D3 per minute, and about how long I can stay in the sun without burning. I don’t use it religiously, but it was a good teaching tool and still a good reference point to know “how strong the sun is” and when I’ve reached a limit for the day. Haven’t burned since I got it, so I’ve got that going for me. (Below is 4-minute a video explanation from dMinder)
Other useful references (that I might have paraphrased above):