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Sunscreen and Vitamin D Deficiency


Sudecia Brown says the last year has been really tough for her. “Always tired, always fatigued, going back and forth to the doctor’s.” Constantly exhausted, she didn’t know what was wrong.

“I had a colonoscopy, I’ve seen a urologist, gynecologist, and my doctor’s done all kinds of blood work just to find out what is actually happening,” Brown says.

Sudecia was vitamin D deficient; a problem that has grown 20 percent in the past decade. “If I’m on the beach, I use sunscreen,” Brown says.

In the strong summer sun, good sun bathers have been trained to never leave the house without those three magic letters: SPF.

Slathering on that sunscreen is what we’re supposed to do, right? It protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays to protect our skin from damage, and potential skin cancer. But something very beneficial actually comes from those ultraviolet rays the SPF blocks; they are your body’s natural source of vitamin D.

“If you wear sunscreen, you will be at significant increased risk for vitamin D deficiency,” says Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University Medical Center. He wrote a book on vitamin D, called “The Vitamin D Solution”.

According to Dr. Holick, increasing the amount of vitamin D in the body can help to prevent a number of ailments, from high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, certain infectious diseases, even cancer.

“If you put a sunscreen on with a sun protection factor of 30, which is what they typically recommend, it reduces the ability to make vitamin d in your skin, by 95-99 percent. So if you’re always wearing sun protection all the time, and you’ve depended on sun for your vitamin d requirement, you’re at increased risk for vitamin d deficiency,” Dr. Holick says.

Those SPF numbers soaring into the triple digits can rob your body of the rewards that vitamin D can give your body.

“So the most common symptom of vitamin D deficiency is sort of non-specific muscle aches. People feel sort of achy all over, and that can be a very common symptom, and some people are just tired, and I’ve seen some people as well, who keep getting sick, get recurrent infections, and they get their vitamin d level corrected, and they tend not to get sick as much,” says Dr. Lisa Owens, Associate Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

So what is the right recipe for getting vitamin D, especially in the northeast, where we don’t get enough year-round sun to produce the vitamin d we need?

Experts suggest:
-taking a dedicated vitamin d supplement; 1,000-2,000 units a day for adults & 400 units a day for children
-add foods rich in vitamin d to your diet; like milk, vitamin d fortified orange juice, and wild salmon

Doctors say don’t avoid sunscreen altogether, but getting some sensible sun as you go about each day, is key.

“When you’re outside walking your dog, or in the garden, or playing tennis, sun protection on your face, but don’t always feel obligated to wear sun protection on your arms and legs, because it’s a wonderful way to make a little vitamin D. You never want to burn,” Dr. Holick says.

“I’m actually getting a lot of vitamin d, I’m getting it from the sunshine, I’m getting it from the foods that I eat,” Sudecia Brown says.

She has now switched to a plant-based diet, and has made sure to soak up a little sun each and every day, and she says it has given her, her life back. “I’m at least 20 minutes, everyday in the sunlight. That’s helped, it just makes me feel better, I just feel happy. I feel better when I’m out, I’m in the sunshine.”


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