The Vitamin D Solution

by Suz on February 1, 2012 · 11 comments

in Sun

I don’t wear sunscreen.  This is to the absolute horror of pretty much everyone I know.  Especially as I’m a fairly pale Brit who has moved to a considerably sunnier Australia.

I’ve been having my Vitamin D levels tested for the last year or so, and despite living in Australia – I am still not at an optimal level.  By the official standards, I’m certainly not deficient – but I want to attain an optimal, not survival, level of Vitamin D.

I’ve read a lot of books on Vitamin D, but sadly most of them are aimed at an American or British reader.  Australia covers such a vast area with significantly different latitudes – we therefore have very different sun considerations.  I’ve just got a copy of “The Vitamin D Solution” by Michael F. Holick Ph.D. M.D. and was thrilled to see it is an Australian edition.  The book contains tables identifying the latitude of all of the main areas in Australia and the equivalent safe and effective sun exposure requirements to attain sufficient Vitamin D production.  These tables are further split by skin type (with fairer skin requiring less sun than darker skin types), by time of day and then by season.

Most of my sun exposure occurs in the morning and evening on my commute.  Having read the tables I’m quite happy that I am not getting too much sun.  In fact, I’m going to wear shorts and shorter sleeves to further increase the amount of vitamin D I can produce in the mornings and evenings.

When I’ve had enough sun, I simply cover up, or get out of the sun – I much prefer these options to covering my skin in sunscreen.  There are rare occasions when it’s not so easy to avoid the sun, particularly on my face – this is the only time I wear sunscreen, as I realise burning is to be avoided at all costs.  When I do wear sunscreen, I’m really careful which one I use as many of them contain chemicals I wouldn’t want anywhere near my skin.  I also have some really good quality Vitamin D3 supplements that I take occasionally, particularly if I know I haven’t had much sun.  Hopefully these approaches will ensure I can increase my Vitamin D result the next time I have it tested.

What’s your Vitamin D/ Sunscreen approach?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Screen name (required) February 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I JUST bought that book a few weeks ago. I was half way through it and I left my bag on in the rain and the book got totally ruined, so I didn’t get the chance to finish it.

I used to be sun phobic but these days I try to get as much as I can without burning myself. On the days I don’t get any sun I take 5000IU of Vitamin D.

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Suz February 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Oh what a shame! You’ll have to borrow another copy from somewhere!
Sounds like a good strategy supplementing on un-sunny days

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Brian February 2, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I’ve been experimenting with this a bit and getting it all wrong. I used to put sun screen on my face every day but then I got worried about vitamin D and chemicals. I stopped, which has been fine so far. I also try to expose my arms/legs to the sun as often as possible (would love to do my back, front too but I need to loose a bit more weight first… and find a appropriate time and place to do so). I’ve ended up sunburnt more times than I’d like though. I got lobstered a couple of weeks ago when I went walking in St Kilda. I had long sleeves on but didn’t think about the back of my neck. I would love to spend 5-10 mins lying in the sun each day and then cover up after that. This just doesn’t seem practical from a time perspective though.

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Suz February 3, 2012 at 9:10 pm

It is hard to get it just right Brian and avoid sunburn. But building up slowly and eating Paleo definitely seem to offer protection against burning. You’ll just have to grow long hair to protect the back of your neck!

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Jamie February 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Hey Suz

We have a similar issue in NZ – lots of UV radiation (predominantly UVA I’d argue), and high rates of vitamin D insufficiency (>80% of the population by the end of summer!). Being very fair (thanks to an English mother), I have spent most of my adult life getting burned. I have tried to mitigate this with sunscreen, but still get cooked. My experience with paleo – I can tolerate a lot more sun, and if I do get burned it is only very superficial and subsides almost overnight. I took 4000-5000IU of vitamin D per day for a year and drove my serum vit D up to just over 200nmol/L at its peak. I have let it fall back from there a touch. But my reading and research into this topic indicates that vitamin D is in itself protective of the skin.

I get sensible levels of sun exposure, preferably in the morning, and use behavioural adjustments (covering up, staying in the shade), rather than chemical barriers to protect myself in the afternoon when the UVA:UVB ratio is less favourable. This year I am the brownest I have ever been with little to no burning in the process. And thanks to a high saturated fat diet, I haven’t developed that leathery skin that often goes with being in too much sun!

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Suz February 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm

It’s incredible how many people are deficient in this part of the world! I definitely seem to be able to tolerate more sun than I used to to.
Andreas Eenfeldt posted about Vitamin D today http://www.dietdoctor.com/vitamin-d-and-the-sun-habits-of-our-ancestors which has made me feel I need to increase my levels more than I originally suspected.
Completely agree with behaviour instead of chemical for sun protection – if only more people did, I’m sure they’d be a lot healthier

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Gert February 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm

At least in Sydney nowadays one doesn’t need sunscreen at all, it has been transformed into European climate! I heard on radio it will be raining 21 out of the next 28 days … let’s hope they got it wrong, we are due for some sunshine!

I use Natural Instincts sunscreen (micro minerals – http://www.naturalinstinct.com.au/Product.aspx/Sun/Micro-MineralSunscreen – no nano particles apparently) and while it’s probably healthier I find it’s not as water-proof (surfing) as for example Nivea’s sunblock, but at least I have a little more peace of mind!

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Carrie August 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Hey Suz

This is all really interesting. As a fellow Brit I am going to try to get some more sun when on holiday next week. I am a bit afraid of not using sun cream though. I agree the chemicals are not great but I am also worried about skin cancer.
Will keep you posted.

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Suz August 16, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Hi Carrie, That’s great to hear!

Ironically I think a big part of the reason for increased skin cancer rates, is down to woefully low Vitamin D levels – and the carcinogenic chemicals used in some sun screens!

Hope you enjoy the sun on holiday – whatever you do, just don’t burn!

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Sara Johnson March 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I haven’t done my research on this topic but I plan to get the above mentioned book. I just wonder what precautions a parent would take with a infant, toddler, child? I can only imagine my families shock if I didn’t want to use sunblock on my 18 mos old at the beach this summer.

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