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The sunshine vitamin

Posted Jun 19 2009 5:41pm
For years, I felt guilty about how much time I spent in the sun as a teenager. Even though I don’t ever recall getting seriously sunburned, I do remember lying on the beach for hours with nothing more than baby oil to protect my skin.

When health experts started talking about the dangers of sun exposure, I started buying sunscreen, and as the warnings became more dire I gradually increased the SPF numbers from Coppertone SPF 2 and 4, all the way up to Banana Boat SPF 50. (I think they even make sunblock that goes up to SPF 100 now).

In the past coupl e of years, though, the pendulum of conventional wisdom has begun to swing back. It turns out that along with blocking the rays that cause sunburn, sunscreens also filter out the light spectrum that produces vitamin D. Now many experts recommend 15 to 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per day. In the winter months, when the sun’s rays are too indirect to spur vitamin D production, supplementation is encouraged.

This is one of those fascinating, and frustrating, areas of nutrition in which the news seems to change almost daily. New research findings reveal that vitamin D is involved in staving off osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, arthritis, cold and flu, and many other diseases. Some reports suggest that the vitamin D created by moderate sun exposure actually preventsskin cancer.

According to other reports, 80 percent of Americans may be deficient in this essential nutrient (technically not a vitamin at all, but a precursor for hormonal activity in the body).

That’s not surprising -- we’ve spent the past two decades covering ourselves with sunblock, indoors and out, winter and summer. Instead of regretting my youthful sunbathing, perhaps I should regret all the sunblock I’ve gooped on. I never really trusted the stuff, anyway. I couldn’t help feeling like it was creating a false sense of security. In a way, maybe it was.
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