Guest blogger JJ Virgin: In a culture that is rightly obsessed with protecting fragile skin from the sun's damaging rays, we're likely allowing our vitamin D storehouses to dwindle. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is quickly becoming one of the most problematic health threats for both adults and children.
According to a study by Dr. Michael Holick of Boston, the recent rickets epidemic (a common bone disease in decades past) could have been caused by a lack of vitamin D. Dr. Holick studied forty newborns whose mothers took proper steps to ensure their health (i.e., they took prenatal vitamins and followed doctors' suggestions, including the need to eat fish and drink vitamin D-fortified milk). He found that, following the babies' births, 81 percent of the children and 76 percent of the mothers were vitamin D deficient.
Why is vitamin D deficiency of concern? Aside from the rickets risk, Dr. Holick found that young girls and young boys are more likely to break a bone than they were forty years ago (56 percent and 32 percent, respectively). Another study found that vitamin D may even protect you from getting the flu! During that trial, conducted from December 2008 through March 2009, 10.8 percent of the children given vitamin D supplements became infected with the flu, compared with 18.6 percent of those who did not receive the vitamin. Vitamin D reduced the risk of contracting the flu virus by 42 percent.
With all of the evidence suggesting that you need vitamin D, it's essential to understand how your body absorbs it. Even if you spend a fair amount of time out of doors, you still may be deficient. Wearing sunblock decreases your body's ability to produce vitamin D in the skin. If you wear SPF 30, you're reducing your body's ability to produce vitamin D by 99 percent. SPF 8? 90 percent.
You don't have to spend much time outdoors without sunscreen to reap the benefits of vitamin D. Depending on your pigmentation, it may take from a few minutes to twenty minutes. Fair-skinned individuals likely only need a few minutes outdoors without sunscreen, while darker tones may need 15 to 20 minutes. If you don't live in a sunny climate year-round, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about vitamin D supplements.
Have some fun in the sun this week with your family! Your body will thank you for it!
Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of "Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy" and the costar of TLC's "Freaky Eaters" reality series. Visit her at jjvirgin.com to grab her free audio, "7 Steps to Break Your 'Freaky Food Habits Fast & Forever."