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Vitamin D - The Sunshine Vitamin

By Kathy Smith, creator of Project: YOU™
From Team Beachbody - Click here for resources, tools and information to help you to reach your health, fitness and positive lifestyle goals!

Kathy S.Have you noticed that vitamin D is getting a lot of attention lately? According to recent reports it may help protect us from certain kinds of cancers (such as breast cancer and prostate cancer). It can also help us to build and maintain strong bones and muscles plus provide a lot of other health benefits. It's no wonder that I am getting a lot of questions about this hot "new" supplement.

dI once gave a speed-walking workshop to a group of women in their mid-forties who were training for a 5K. One of the women walked regularly for exercise and she always made sure she was covered in sunscreen and clothing. She avoided the sun at all costs, because she was worried about skin cancer. She kept getting colds and having aches and pains. When I suggested she check with her doctor, she found out something really surprising. She had a severe vitamin D deficiency. She got a prescription for getting her vitamin D from natural sunlight.

She started walking early in the morning or later in the afternoon or early evening, when there was low sunlight, and she didn't put sunscreen on her hands or face for her 45-minute walks. She wore sunscreen for the rest of her day.

Flex GirlWithin two months, her vitamin D had increased to a healthy level and her mood and immune system improved dramatically. Within six months her bone density had also improved and her aches and pains had gone away. When we don't get enough vitamin D, our bones get weakened and so do the muscles that support them. She also discovered that she had lost her tendency to catch colds.

Vitamin D and cholesterol

CholesterolBut here's something I bet you didn't know: vitamin D isn't really a vitamin. It's a hormone. That's right. What's the difference? Vitamin D is manufactured in the body and that makes it a hormone. Vitamins by definition are not manufactured in the body and must be obtained from food. When I tell my friends this, they always ask the same logical question. Why all this discussion? Why not just let my body make the vitamin D it needs?

The answer is pretty surprising. Did you know that vitamin D, like so many other hormones in the body, is manufactured from cholesterol? When your skin is exposed to sunshine, the cholesterol in your skin is converted to vitamin D.

Colored PillsBut here's the dilemma. Just about every person in America believes incorrectly, I might add that cholesterol is a toxic substance that causes heart attacks. And so millions of us are taking a medication to block our body's ability to synthesize cholesterol. The odds are pretty good that, as a result, we don't have enough vitamin D.

UmbrellaMillions of us also believe that sunshine is a bad thing that causes skin cancer, so we make sure that we cover ourselves with strong sunblock. As a result, sunlight never touches our skin, and you guessed it, we don't convert cholesterol into vitamin D.

Best time to soak up the sunshine

Sun HandSo what can we do? If you expose your face and hands to sunlight without sunscreen for about 20 minutes three to five times per week for four to five months per year, you probably will get enough UVB rays to keep your bone mass intact, because your body has the ability to stockpile vitamin D for use during low-sunlight times. Mother Nature is amazing. Early-morning or late-afternoon sun exposure is the safest.

Walking CoupleI love taking an early morning walk at least four mornings per week, or I try for the late afternoon or early evening when there is still some sunlight and the risk of overexposure is very small. I always wear sunscreen when I'm not getting my natural dose of vitamin D. Another easy way to get some vitamin D time is rolling down the window in your car as you drive, or even opening the windows in your home.

When you can't get enough sunlight, if you're under 65, you should take 400 to 800 IU per day. People over 65 should take 800 to 1200 IU per day unless they have a known sensitivity to it. Remember that many very common drugs actually increase sun sensitivity and will therefore increase your chances for getting a sunburn if you stay out too long. It's always best to check with your pharmacist.

Good food sources of vitamin D are liver, cod liver oil, and egg yolks. But the most reliable way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is sunshine. Have you had your sunshine today?

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