To sun or not to sun? It may depend on whether you've watched the news in the past ten years - the sun has gotten a terrible rap. Of course, much of the concern about exposure to the sun's damaging rays is well founded. The carefree days of spending hours on a hot beach, ever-so-carefully bronzing your body to the perfect shade of baked, are far behind us now.
But, what about the sun - does it offer any real benefit?
It seems the answer is a sizzling yes! Exposure to the sun allows our bodies to synthesize vitamin D. This little vitamin has been shown to be a real powerhouse in the health department. It fosters healthy bones, strong muscles and a potent immune system. Some studies even indicate it may play a role in fighting cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Recent studies point once again to the importance of adequate vitamin D levels: "But new research is now raising our awareness about the possible relationships between vitamin D and cancer, particularly colorectal, breast, ovarian and prostate cancers," said Victoria Drake, a research associate in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. There are also potential links to cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis."
The research team points out that as many as one billion people worldwide may be vitamin D deficient. Yes, that's billion, with a B. Other studies have shown vitamin D deficiency is not limited to northern climates, where the winter conditions mean less sun. Even natives of Hawaii have been found to be deficient.
Also in question is the most beneficial dose - many believe it is actually several times the recommended 200 international units (I.U.) per day. The elderly, and African Americans, are especially at risk. A recent study found 42 percent of African American women to be vitamin D deficient. Another study found vitamin D deficiency to be "a major unrecognized epidemic in the older adult population."
What's the solution?
Well, some common sense to start. Get a little bit of sunshine each week. Be sensible - aim for 10 to 15 minutes three times per week, preferably between 11a.m. and 2 p.m. Then, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, add a vitamin D supplement: 400 I.U. up until the age of 50, then 800 I.U. after that.
So, go ahead - open the door and take a peek outside. Yeah, it's all coming back, isn't it? Enjoy...