Expert prescribes time in sun to aid health through vitamin D
Emma Downs | The Journal Gazette
Awhile back, Beverly Ross decided she was overdue for a vacation.
The local nurse was tired; yawning throughout the day, bleary-eyed in the evenings. At the age of 57, she wasn’t surprised to notice more aches and pains either. This was just what happened when you age, she thought.
“I attributed it all to me getting older and forcing myself to work long days,” Ross says. “I just thought I needed time off and I’d start feeling better again.”
In the past, Ross took one or two cruises a year – a couple of weeks of relaxation, guilt-free buffet food and plenty of sun – but it had been a couple years since her last vacation. When she mentioned this to her boss, an endocrinologist with Lutheran Medical Group, he suspected the cruises weren’t the only thing she’d been missing.
“Without the cruises, I wasn’t getting enough sun,” Ross says. “And it turned out that was causing a lot of problems for me.”
Ross’s blood test results showed she was vitamin D deficient, a condition that can lead to a softening of the bones but can also be partly responsible for changes in mood, low energy, hair loss and other symptoms, endocrinologist Meletios Karas says.
And Ross isn’t alone. Chances are, we’re all in the same boat.
“If you live in Fort Wayne, it’s a good assumption that you are vitamin D deficient,” Karas says. “Lately, we’ve been diagnosing at least 50 people a week.”
Within a few days, Ross began an eight-week-long treatment of 50,000 units of vitamin D2, three times a week. Currently, she takes 2,000 to 5,000 units of vitamin D3 every day to maintain a normal level of the vitamin in her system. The changes have been dramatic, she says.
“I started feeling so much better,” she says. “My aches and pains decreased. I wasn’t tired. Shortly afterward I had thyroid surgery and I breezed right through it.”
Karas attributes a community-wide lack of vitamin D to two factors: the lack of sunlight in northeastern Indiana and the busy schedule of the average adult.
“The man above gave us a simple solution to the problem,” Karas says. “Just be out in the sun. But today we’re all working, and we have a limited amount of opportunity for sun exposure. In the Midwest, we have a lot of cloudy, rainy days, too. It makes it tough.”
Karas suggests spending 15 minutes in the sun at noon on a daily basis – with no sunscreen – to keep a vitamin D deficiency at bay. The darker your skin, the longer you should stay in the sun, but no one should exceed 30 minutes, he says.
“You need an adequate amount of vitamin D to absorb an adequate amount of calcium,” Karas says. “A vitamin D deficiency is very silent. There is no dramatic constellation of symptoms, but it can be pretty severe if left untreated.”
Recently studies have linked vitamin D supplementation as lowering risk of prostate, colon and breast cancer, Karas says. Locally, Karas’ patients are saying that normalizing their vitamin D levels has led to less hair loss, improved aches and pains, better moods, more energy and regular menstrual cycles.
But there can be other factors contributing to low levels of the vitamin. Karas says the best measure of Vitamin D storage is 25-hydroxy vitamin D, a simple blood test. People in nursing homes and pregnant women are particularly at risk, but anyone who doesn’t get enough sun should check their levels too, he says.
“People weren’t aware how severe and how common this deficiency is,” Karas says. “One hundred years from now, they’ll find out that there are more benefits to vitamin D than just on the bones. But, for now, try to take a walk for 15 minutes a day in the sunshine. That’s pretty good medicine for everyone.”
Vitamin D defense
To keep normal levels of vitamin D, endocrinologist Meletios Karas suggests getting 15 minutes of sunlight at noon daily. Supplements with 5,000 units of vitamin D3 – available over the counter – can be used as a maintenance drug. The following foods are also rich in vitamin D and can be added to a daily diet:
Cod liver oil (1 tablespoon): 1,360 units
Salmon (3 ounces, cooked): 794 units
Mackerel (3 ounces, cooked): 388 units
Tuna fish (3 ounces, canned in water and drained): 154 units
Milk (1 cup non-fat, reduced fat and whole, vitamin D-fortified): 115 to 124 units
Orange juice (1 cup, fortified with vitamin D): 100 units
Yogurt (6 ounces): 80 units
Margarine (1 tablespoon, fortified): 60 units
Sardines (two, canned in oil and drained): 46 units
Beef liver (3.5 ounces, cooked): 46 units
Egg (one whole): 25 units
Swiss cheese (1 ounce): 6 units