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Vitamin D and reduced disease risks?

September 11, 2008

A few weeks ago in the Times health section, I read an interesting article about vitamin D possibly reducing risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many other diseases.

Where can one obtain vitamin D easily? From the sun; however, since the scare of skin cancer is on the rise (steadily feeding the sales of sunscreens, much to the delight of the sunscreen industry), many people are staying out of the sun and increasing use of sunblock. Also, our modern lifestyle have kept us indoors for various reasons-work, laziness, TV, video games, and computers all play a part in our desire to stay indoors rather than outdoors.

Not every scientist agrees that vitamin D is crucial to well-being, but an interesting study at the Harvard School of Public Health studied 18,225 men, from 1993 to 1995-blood samples were taken and stored. Ten years after the follow-up, the study identified 454 men who had a heart attack, and 900 other study members who did not have an attack, then they measured vitamin D levels at study entry.

They reported that men with blood levels below 15 nanograms per milliliter had 2 1/2 times the risk of having an attack or dying. Thus, when they controlled for all other possible factors, such as hypertension, obesity, and high lipid levels, the risk was still twice as high as it was for the controls.

Although this is just one study, many epidemiological studies have found a higher rate of heart attacks at higher latitudes, lower altitudes and in winter (all correlating to decreased exposure to sunshine).

To get an adequate intake of vitamin D, sunbathing (at noon) produces 20,000 IUs in 20 minutes in Caucasians-additional exposure can damage skin. Darker skinned people require three to five times as much exposure to produce the same amount. One can also include more vitamin D rich foods in his or her diet, sources include oily fish and fortified milk, margarine and fortified cereal. Fish has about 350 IUs per serving, milk contains about 100 IUs per glass, and margarine (which I don’t recommend personally) has about 60 IUs per tablespoon. Many researchers recommend consuming 1,500 to 2,000 IUs per day and attaining blood levels of 50 to 60 nanograms per milliliter.

What do you think? Do you think completely avoiding the sun is a good idea? Bad idea?

Personally, I am not so afraid of getting some direct sunlight everyday. In general, I feel better when I have direct sunlight daily, but I never overdue it. And although I DO NOT believe that sunbathing for long periods of time is good for the skin, and I do feel that there is a correlation between high levels of sun exposure and skin cancer, I have to question what is truly causing the skin cancer- (in some cases, not all) the sun itself or the ridiculous amounts of chemicals we are constantly slathering on our skin day after day, and year after year (i.e. lotions, creams, sunscreens, self-tanners, perfumes, anti-aging creams, etc. etc. etc.)

Have you ever looked at the ingredients of such products? I don’t feel that they should be anywhere near the skin. Also, we swim in chlorinated pools and shower in flouridated water. Is this good for the skin? I’m skeptical. Much has changed in recent times, but you don’t hear much about these new developments when you hear or read about skin cancer. The sun is always the culprit.

Do your research and then make the decision that is best for you! Thanks for reading. :o)

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