Spring is finally here! Mother Nature has shown some very bipolar tendencies this turnover of seasons and I'm hoping warmer weather is here to stay. I'm looking forward to soaking up a little sunshine (little being the key buzz word here)! My goal is to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize my vitamin D production, while at the same time protecting myself from the damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your overall health, and 3 out of 4 Americans aren't getting enough of it. The greatest source is through sun exposure, although it is present in some random foods including shiitake and button mushrooms, several fish (mackerel, wild sockeye salmon, herring, sardines, catfish, tuna), eggs (one egg provides only 10% of your daily need), and it is added to milk. Vitamin D is responsible for the following:
Boosts the immune system
Enhance your muscle strength
Helps produce optimal blood pressure levels
Support healthy kidney function
Promotes healthy teeth and bones
Helps with weight loss
Protects against radiation exposure
If you don't follow Dr. Mercola already, sign up for his emails - he's amazing and I've learned so much from him! He wrote an article detailing how safe sun exposure helps protect against as many as 16 different types of cancer including breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, ovarian, bladder, gallbladder, gastric, pancreatic, prostate, rectal and renal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He goes on to say that optimizing your Vitamin D levels can cut your risks of several cancers by 50%. However, overzealous sunscreen use has resulted in widespread Vitamin D deficiencies which are linked to cancer, depression, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and obesity. Vitamin D deficiencies are WAY too common because people spend so much time indoors and are afraid to get a little sun. Not good! Sun exposure is also linked to skin cancer and melanoma, so what's the right balance? One of my very best friends is a dermatologist and I am constantly picking her brain about skin concerns - I was THRILLED when she chose this speciality! She said that 15 minutes of sun on your forearms three times a week is the right amount of exposure needed to maximize the benefits of Vitamin D. Your body can produce only a limited amount of Vitamin D every day. Pale skinned people will hit an "equilibrium point" after about 20 minutes of exposure to UVB light at which point no more Vitamin D will be produced. After that you're only increasing your chances of getting burned, which is something you absolutely want to avoid - time to go inside or apply sunscreen! If you have darker skin, reaching this equilibrium point can take two to six times longer depending on your pigmentation.
Three times a week for 15 minutes is VERY doable. If you work in an office all day long try to spend part of your lunch break outside. Maybe take a phone call sitting in the sun. Better yet, go for a walk outside!! I have a very low tolerance for hot weather and quickly start falling apart. During peak hours of heat I'm inside or in the shade - if not I can guarantee I'm whining and miserable. This is what I'm going to do to find my Vitamin D balance:
Olivia and I like to take a bike ride together before her lunch and this will be the perfect time for us to get our 15 minutes of sunshine on our arms and legs. If we go to the park or spend more time outside during peak hours I will bring sunscreen. I will also spend a few peak hour minutes unprotected outside during Olivia's nap watering my flowers and working in the garden - wearing my sun hat, of course.
During the winter months when the sun doesn't come out much or it is too cold to spend time outside, I take a Vitamin D3 supplement. Olivia takes a liquid version from Child Life (I buy it at Whole Foods) every day and she loves the natural berry flavor. Supplements do not work as well as natural sun exposure, but I figure it's better than nothing when soaking up rays isn't an option
We do make a few trips to the beach during the Spring and summer and I will be diligent about protecting our skin with safe, natural sunscreen (read my next blog post for sunscreen suggestions). We'll also be sporting our sun hats and I'm going to buy one of these adorable Urban Baby Bonnets for Olivia - love these!
Shea butter and coconut oil provide natural SPF protection from the sun. I have never tried this as a barrier and am very carefully going to test it out one day - will let you know… Several people on blogs I follow swear by it and it sure would be a nice option for shorter term exposure! The body butter from Ana's Corner was specially formulated with ingredients that naturally protect your skin from the sun but still allow the UVB waves (good, Vitamin D waves). I apply this after every shower or bath and it lasts all day, LOVE it. The natural facial moisturizer I use daily also has an SPF of 15.