Vitamin D and the Sun

A big change was brought about by the advent of UV-blocking sunscreen lotions used to prevent skin cancer. The feared skin cancers have a relationship to sun exposure. Some develop from precancerous lesions, such as actinic keratoses, which result from exposure to the shorter “burn” UVB rays (as compared to the longer UVA rays). The vague part of this relationship has to do with when the exposure occurred, the intensity, and which UV rays cause what types of cancer. Most sunscreens used over the past decades blocked only the sunburn-producing UVB rays. Another question is: How can malignant melanoma, which may rarely occur in such covered up areas as between the toes or on the labia, be related to sun exposure? Potent sun exposure may have taken place decades before these skin cancers appear. Gradually acquiring a tan, without burning, produces a very effective sunscreen yet allows the production of vitamin D, which can act as a boost for the immune system and cancer prevention.

We have not had sufficient time, or enough honest evaluation, to evaluate the sue of sunscreen. There is no question that sunburn damages the skin’s connective tissue as bad as tobacco exposure, producing deep wrinkles. In general, cautious sun exposure trumps indiscriminate use of sunscreen. But it is much harder for very fair-skinned people to acquire that gradual, protective tan. Facial protection may well be needed during sunny months or when the sun’s rays are reflected off of snow or water. From personal observation, I see a reduction in the formation of the lesions that lead to skin cancers, due to following the current high-dose vitamin D recommendations. In time, this should lead to reducing the incidence of skin cancer.

Taking Vitamin D

One advantage of vitamin D supplementation is that it sidesteps the whole sun block versus sun worship argument. The amount of recommended vitamin D has cycled between extremes. Giving 400 IU of vitamin D to infants to prevent rickets was a universal recommendation in the 1950s. This, coupled with fortified infant formulas, worked pretty well. However, breasted infants could suffer from deficiency of vitamin D. It seems that breast milk vitamin D levels plateau at a low level, no matter what the mother’s intake may be. Strangely, recommendations for children and adults have been eve as low as 200 IU daily. Complacency due to food supplementation was highlighted in 2009, by a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who stated that they thought that it was strange that physicians were seeing a return of rickets, even though vitamin D fortification of milk had been in place for many years. Apparently, the connection hadn’t been made that many children preferred soda to milk or that only allow percentage of infants were being prescribed, or otherwise taking, a vitamin D supplement. Sun exposure was not even considered to be a factor.

In this explosive upswing in support of vitamin D, we are witnessing a complete turnabout in the attitude of the medical establishment. For decades, while published medical studies attempted to discredit the use of vitamin C or vitamin E, occasionally an article would appear that warned physicians of the danger of vitamin D toxicity. Such a study ignored the fact that “toxicity” was based on administering many thousands of international units (IU) over weeks of time but then concluding from this that anything over 800 IU for an adult (less for infants) was to be considered toxic. As late as 1998, we hit all-time lows of vitamin D recommendations: 200 IU for infants and children and adults up to age fifty-one; for those older than fifty-one, 400-600 IU. Fortunately, by 2009, the infant recommendation returned to 400 IU per day. But there still is not a complete consensus concerning the toxic level.

Vitamin D is good for you and your child. Some experts recommend 1,000 IU per day for a child old enough to be able to swallow a little pill through pre-adolescence, and then even more for teens. For adults, the optimum level may be 4,000 IU per day or even more. As this is being written, the dose ceiling rises in exponential fashion, so keep turned. Even the “experts” can’t keep ahead of the recommendations. Capsule, tablet, or liquid is fine.

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