Fun in the Sun

As we brave out of the harsh and chilling ice age of winter and jump through puddles left behind by May showers, summer is finally upon us. While summer does not technically start until June 21, the warmer weather certainly makes it feel like it is already here. Long, sunny days filled with ocean waves, ice cold drinks, and sun kissed skin bring joy along with the much craved warmth and light. Tan skin, glowing faces, and tiny freckles mark the sun’s arrival, but the sunshine brings along a gift that nourishes more than just our bright smiles: Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is created from the cholesterol in skin, the synthesis for it beginning when the sun’s UV rays hit skin cells. This vitamin has an impact on all the systems in the body, especially in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in order to create strong bones. It also plays an important role in the immune, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. Although this is one of the most important vitamins in the body, there are very few foods that are rich in this nutrient, making it optimal to get proper sun exposure to ensure its production.

While the main source of this vitamin is quite accessible, especially in the summer months, about 50% of the people in the world suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, otherwise known as Hypovitaminosis D. This deficiency is caused by lifestyles that require many to stay indoors, pollution in the Earth’s hemisphere, and the overuse of sunscreen. Hypovitaminosis D can cause the body to lose its defense system against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and depression. It can also trigger bones in the body to grow weaker leading to fractures and further injuries.

Knowledge of proper and safe exposure to the sun is key in helping the body to produce  Vitamin D while also avoiding the risks of skin burns and skin cancer from the sun’s UV rays. It is recommended to get 10 to 30 minutes of midday sun exposure, without sunscreen about three times a week, longer for those with darker skin tone as they produce more melanin (pigment in the skin that naturally protects the body from UV rays) and for those that live further from the equator. After about 10 to 30 minutes of exposure, it is important to apply sunscreen if one plans to remain in the sun for longer in order to prevent sun damage. Along with sun exposure, supplements can aid the body in producing the Vitamin D it needs, including fish oil, a diet that includes fatty fish, and vitamins. With the sun and supplements, one can reach the recommended 800 to 1,000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D needed in a day.

With the bright sun high in the sky and the warmth of the sunlight embracing the atmosphere late into the day, it is easy to forget the importance of the right amount of sun exposure. Since everyone is certainly different, it may be helpful to research various ways to ensure that your body is getting the Vitamin D it needs. So, enjoy your summer and produce Vitamin D while you’re at it!


Megha Nayyar