There’s little doubt that most Americans need more vitamin D – but should they get it from the sun or from a supplement? There are arguments for and against taking vitamin D supplements. Supporters of supplemental vitamin D argue that it’s better to take a pill than increase the risk of skin cancer by exposing the skin to sun.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology recently addressed the pros and cons of natural vs. supplemental vitamin D by using a computer simulation model. They wanted to see how much sun exposure it would take for people living in various areas of the country to get adequate amounts of vitamin D.
What did they find? The amount of sun exposure needed to optimize vitamin D levels depends upon where a person lives and the time of year. People who live in northern areas of the country such as Boston would get enough vitamin D spending only eight minutes in the sun during the summer months, but would get negligible amounts of vitamin D in the winter. People living in Miami could get the vitamin D they needed with six minutes of sun exposure – no matter the time of year.
This is really an oversimplification since the amount of vitamin D absorbed varies with skin color and age. People who have darker skin need more sun exposure to get adequate vitamin D – as do older people. Because there are so many variables including time of year, location, age, and skin color, many experts believe that taking vitamin D as a supplement is the best option for most people.
For people who live in an area that doesn’t get much sunlight, but still want to get vitamin D naturally don’t have a lot of options since there’s a lack of good food sources of vitamin D. The best are fatty fish and vitamin D fortified milk, cereal, and orange juice – but most people don’t eat enough of these foods. The current RDA is 400 I.U. a day, but most experts believe even this is too low.
Is it a good idea to take supplemental vitamin D? For people who live in northern areas of the country, are older, have darker skin, or spend little time in the sun due to concerns about skin cancer – taking vitamin D supplements is a good idea. The best way to find out whether supplements are needed is to get a vitamin D level checked. If it’s low supplemental vitamin D is the best option. Just be sure to buy supplemental vitamin D only from a reputable company – and take it under the guidance of a doctor who can re-check vitamin D levels regularly to make sure it’s working.