Vitamin D: Best Time of Day to Get More of the Sunshine Vitamin

My Idea of a Perfect Spring Day


As I write this, we are a few days past the spring equinox in North Texas. If I weren’t working on a deadline with this article, I would be able to take advantage of a perfect spring morning, like this:

Get up at 7:30. Have breakfast. At 8:00 AM, walk my two dogs for 45 minutes. Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and the sunshine that is our gift this glorious morning. Go inside, feed dogs. Then work in the yard for the next 1.5 hours. Have lunch. Stay inside doing chores or working on the computer for the balance of the day.

There are lots of great benefits to the scenario I just described. But is this routine calculated to get the maximum value of the sun’s rays, and thus, vitamin D absorption? No.

For one thing, that 8:00 AM was really 7:00 AM, because we just converted to Daylight Savings Time in the vast majority of states in the U.S. I looked up the UV index forecast for noon in my city in Texas, and it is projected to be at a very moderate level of "3". In a city like Seattle, the UV index will be even lower at 12:00 noon.

It’s going to be difficult to get the maximum benefit from the sun, and it takes very little reflection to see why.

Baby Sun Worshipper

How Did We Get Here?


For the last several years, the health care industry has focused like a laser on vitamin D. It seems that many individuals are deficient in vitamin D, particularly anyone over 50, the very elderly, the immune-compromised, the obese, and those who take certain prescriptions. The recommendations for an optimal dose per day of vitamin D3 are very difficult to assess. Most advisories are a general recommendation for reasonably healthy adults.

What are optimal amounts of vitamin D? While a minimum of 20 nanograms per milliliter in the blood used to be recommended, now researchers feel that the level should be at least 30 nanograms. A physician can check vitamin D blood levels using a blood test called 25-hydroxy.

The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin D has traditionally been 400 iu. for a healthy adult, but even that is changing. Many healthcare professionals now recommend 2000 iu. or above each day. As people age, they need to maintain healthy levels of calcium to prevent bone loss, but this cannot be achieved without the proper levels of vitamin D3 and magnesium. The whole idea of vitamin D has to be examined and turned on its head when we contemplate the devastation of a terrible condition like osteoporosis. In addition, a number of research studies have appeared that suggest inadequate levels of vitamin D are responsible for depression, obesity, cancer, and immune system problems.

Fish, a source of vitamin D (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)
Fish, a source of vitamin D (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Forms of the Vitamin

 

There are several ways to get adequate vitamin D.  In decreasing order of helpfulness, you can (a) receive it freely from the sun’s rays in many parts of the world, (b) get it from supplementation, or (c) try to get it solely from food sources.

Most food sources are not high in this vitamin.  Fatty fishes like tuna, salmon, and mackerel have moderate amounts, and egg yolks, beef liver, and mushrooms contain a little vitamin D.  Nearly all homogenized milk is fortified with the vitamin, as are a few other dairy products, orange juice, or prepared cereal.  Cod liver oil or shark liver oil contain very impressive amounts per tablespoon, but many people understandably don’t want to take it in that form (I can’t blame them).

If ingesting food doesn’t do it for you, you might need to supplement.  One can buy vitamin D rather cheaply, and it is manufactured in many available doses,  but make sure it’s the D3 type you’re taking daily.  If you’re really deficient, your doctor can prescribe a vitamin D3 gel that has 50,000 iu.  I got this prescription, and I took it once per week for about a month as a therapeutic dose.  (Caution:  your doctor may prescribe 50,000 daily, but I am wary of that.  I asked my brother-in-law, the internist, about that, and he thought it was too high, as did my pharmacist.  So I got the OK to take it once per week).

Great Video on the Benefits of Solar Exposure

The Best Way for Vitamin D?

 

Now we introduce controversy.  Vitamin D is provided free of charge by going outside in the sun.  However, the American Academy of Dermatology and other bodies worldwide have done such a good job for so long in warning about skin cancer, that many people (especially women) have given up trying to get sun exposure.  Personally, each day since 1995, I have used a high-value SPF on my face and neck, topped off with makeup foundation, which enhances the protection even more.  Until recently I worked indoors at a job, many times not even getting outside at lunchtime.  No wonder  I, and so many others, have become vitamin D deficient.

If you’re able to do this – and many aren’t, unfortunately – try to get a lot of your vitamin D outdoors.  Under the right conditions, you can very efficiently get 10,000 iu. of the vitamin with just a few minutes of sun exposure.  The best time of the day is between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM (11:00AM to 4:00 PM during Daylight Savings Time) during the summer months, when the sun is highest in the sky, and the UV index is adequate.  In lower latitudes and as you get closer to the equator, the benefit is provided year-round, but isn’t practical for many of us due to adverse temperatures.  If you live in Boston, Canada, Seattle, or Chicago, forget trying out the sun except during the summer.  The sun’s angle just won’t be optimal to get those rays during the dreary cold months.

Woman Sun-Bather

Use the Sun Sensibly

If you’ve planned for a sun outing, check the weather map. It will display a map of North America (or any other area on the earth) and will show an instantaneous snapshot of the current UV index. Alternatively, check out the UV forecast at noon for your region by entering your zip code here. In Texas in the summer, the midday sun can make a UV index of 8 or greater, which is fine for sun exposure.

Wear a swimsuit or something similar when you go out. Stretch out on a chaise lounge or bask on a diving board. Don’t expect that you can wear your halter top and shorts, and get the same benefit by doing yard work or gardening at noon. You won’t, because you’re constantly walking, bending, and moving out of the sun into the shade. With this scenario, you’ll have to be out longer in your back yard. When I consider my climate, I feel the beads of perspiration already forming.

How long to stay out? It depends on your skin type, and the UV index. If you’re very fair, you might want to limit yourself to 10 minutes. 15 to 20 minutes is probably good enough for most people with medium complexions (it needs to be longer for people of color). After about 20 minutes, many of us will start to burn (and you know who you are). Be sensible, and work up to your time.

Above all, realize that, with the sun, your skin is able to take in and synthesize the proper amount of vitamin D. There is no danger of getting too much of the vitamin from UVB rays, only a danger of sunburn.

If All Else Fails


How frustrating. Many of us work indoors a lot. As a last resort, one can frequent a tanning salon. This is a very efficient way to get the proper UVB exposure adapted to your busy schedule, and the tanning salon industry is government-regulated in the U.S. and Canada. Go to a reputable salon, talk to the manager, and if you have a good feeling about the place, use its services. Just be sensible, and expose your skin at a minimal level.

What Now?

 

Medical advisories are constantly changing.  It’s unavoidable.  Some of the above information will be very difficult to implement because of lifestyles or geographic location, but we all must try to get adequate levels of vitamin D.  Do your own research.  Find out what works best for you, given your own body, its tolerance to supplements or to UVB rays, and your own budget and personal schedule.

There is an old saying:  “People do their best with the light they have been given.”  How appropriate that adage is in the light of new knowledge about the benefits of vitamin D absorption from the sun.   Use the above advice wisely, as you are able.

Photo Credits

Baby sun worshiper from maessive on Flickr

Woman basking in the sun from alaskan dude on Flickr

 

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