By Jeannette Sheehan
Our bodies do some incredible things. One thing you might not be aware of is the ability of our body to convert its own supply of vitamin D into a usable form that is easily absorbed into our bloodstream with help from the sun.
The conversion happens when a fair amount of our skin is exposed without sunscreen to UV radiation; more specifically UVB rays from the sun. However, the American Cancer Society reports that each year more than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States alone. Most skin cancers are a result of extended exposure to the sun’s UV rays, primarily UVA rays. This makes it more difficult to obtain those useful UVB rays considering they’re most prevalent during the peak sun hours of 10am and 1pm.
How important is Vitamin D to us? Our bone and muscle strength decrease as we age. Vitamin D, along with adequate amount of calcium, plays a lead role in maintaining strong bones and muscles. When we are stronger we have greater balance and are at less risk for falls, and in turn, osteoporotic fractures. Vitamin D ensures our bodies absorb the calcium we take in. They work hand in hand. Together calcium and vitamin D can help reduce our risk for osteoporosis. Vitamin D has also been linked to other health benefits such as helping prevent heart disease and numerous cancers including breast, colon and prostate cancers.
How much direct sun exposure do we need to convert our own Vitamin D into its active form? That answer varies by individual. While our bodies’ own form of Vitamin D is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream compared to supplements, sun exposure might not be an option to those with elevated risk of skin cancer or those with limited availability to get outdoors.
In addition, as we age, our bodies’ ability to convert our own source of vitamin D begins to falter. This raises the value to each of us for maintaining a well balanced diet including foods rich in vitamin D such as fortified milk and cereal, liver and fish. When diet alone doesn’t support our need for vitamin D, supplements are a viable alternative.
According to the American Cancer Society, much research continues to be done on the importance of Vitamin D and sun exposure. They suggest that whenever possible you should obtain your levels of vitamin D through diet and supplements. These sources do not increase your risk for skin cancer. Be sure to ask your doctor if vitamin D is right for you.
Jeannette Sheehan, MSN, RN, board certified nurse Practitioner is founder and owner of ABC Home Healthcare Professionals, 233 Albion Street, Wakefield and provides medical and non-medical home care services to Metro Boston, North Shore and Cape Ann communities. She can be reached at 781-245-1880 or online at www.abchhp.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read on www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.