Regular sun exposure is the most effective way of getting vitamin D into the body. When exposed to the sun, the skin facilitates Vitamin D production using cholesterol.
However, some people might not be lucky to receive Vitamin D from the sun. On the one hand, are people who don’t want to get scorched by the midday sun to get the essential vitamin.
And on the other, are people living in cold places with few sunny days, risking Vitamin D deficiency. This begs the question, how do I get vitamin D without risking excessive sun exposure? Read on to find out:
What is Vitamin D?
It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the body absorb phosphorus and calcium minerals, which are critical for bone health. Being fat soluble means it can be stored by the body for a long period, or until the body needs it.
The human body produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun. That’s because the sun contains an ultraviolet ray called UVB which is absorbed by the skin cells to activate vitamin D synthesis.
Vitamin D occurs in two forms- Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. Both play a crucial role in the body, but the latter is more potent than Vitamin D2 and increases Vitamin D levels faster than its counterpart.
Also, vitamin D2 is derived from plant-based sources, while Vitamin D3 comes from animal sources like salmon, eggs, trout, tuna, and sardines.
Benefits of Vitamin D
1. Strengthening the Bones
Vitamin D plays a critical role in strengthening and developing bones. It promotes calcium absorption, which facilitates the mineralization of bones, an essential part of bone development.
That’s why vitamin D deficiency causes bone deformities like rickets in kids and broken bones in adults. The bones grow soft and develop a poor density which manifests as osteomalacia and osteoporosis in the long term.
2. Strengthen the Immune System
Vitamin D plays a critical role in strengthening the immune system. It activates B cells, antigen-presenting cells, and T cells, the body’s killer cells. T cells detect and destroy foreign antibodies like viruses, while B cells produce the antibodies.
Antigen-presenting cells, on the other hand, detect and inform the immune system about a possible infection. All such activities are only possible when the immune system is strong.
That’s why vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of developing autoimmune diseases like diabetes, respiratory infections like asthma, and arthritis.
3. Promotes Muscle Healing
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in repairing skeletal muscles after an injury. It activates the vitamin D receptor, which enhances muscle regeneration, a process that requires activating satellite cells and restoring mitochondrial function.
4. Good for Oral Health
Vitamin D also promotes oral health. It helps the body absorb calcium, facilitating tooth mineralization and reducing the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and cavities.
5. Reduces Risk of Developing Heart Disease
The heart has receptors for Vitamin D, which keep the arteries relaxed and flexible when it is pumping blood. As such, it plays a crucial role in controlling one’s blood pressure.
Studies show people with low Vitamin D levels are more likely to develop a heart attack, strokes, and other heart-related ailments.
Maintaining a daily intake of 600-800 IU is critical to keeping cardiovascular diseases at bay. Unfortunately, once you develop heart-related illnesses, it’s challenging to reverse the condition by taking Vitamin D supplements.
Bright lights at night can disrupt our internal body clock, as melatonin increases with darkness and decreases with light. Therefore, it’s crucial to dim the lights at least an hour before bedtime to promote melatonin production, which can help you fall asleep faster. In today’s age, it’s common to be surrounded by bright lights, but taking simple steps like dimming the lights can significantly improve the quality of your sleep.
What are the Risks of Excessive Sun Exposure?
Although the sun is the primary source of vitamin D, excessive exposure can be harmful to your health. It increases the risk of developing eye damage, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
A balance between enough sun exposure for vitamin D benefits and excessive sun exposure that increases the risk of skin cancer is necessary.
Prolonged exposure to the sun doesn’t increase vitamin D levels; shorter periods (30 minutes) are more efficient at increasing production.
How Much Vitamin D Does the Body Need?
The recommended daily dose for vitamin D for adults is 600-800 IU and 340-400 IU for kids aged one year. However, people living without sun exposure long enough or those with darker skin tones need higher quantities, usually 800-2000 IU.
Note that Vitamin D production fluctuates by season, reducing drastically during the cool winter months. With more time spent indoors, few sunny hours or days, and the skin covered in clothing when outdoors, it’s nearly impossible to get enough Vitamin D.
Also, most of the sun’s rays (UVB) are absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer so the body doesn’t receive enough energy to activate Vitamin D synthesis.
While the body relies on the tissue stores to produce the vitamin, they only have enough supply for 30-60 days. Most people correct the imbalance by spending more hours outdoors, but if the winter season lasts longer, you must look for other ways to get Vitamin D without sun exposure.
Ways to Get Vitamin D Without Sun Exposure
Foods and supplements increase Vitamin D levels in people who don’t get much sun exposure or don’t want to get excessive exposure to the sun. They include:
1. Eating Seafood and Fatty Fish
One effective way of increasing Vitamin D intake is to eat seafood and fatty fish like:
- Salmon: It’s an excellent source of Vitamin D, containing 526-924 IU of the vitamin, depending on the source. Studies show wild-caught salmon tend to have higher levels of Vitamin D than farmed salmon
- Canned tuna: The fish is a favorite for many households because it’s cheaper than fresh fish, easy to store, and has great flavor. The fish is a great source of Vitamin D, packing 269 IU per 100 grams of serving
- Sardines and herring: Both types of fish are rich in Vitamin D. Herring derived from Fresh Atlantic has 214IU while sardines pack 193 IU per 100 grams
2. Eating Eggs
Eggs are a convenient alternative for those who aren’t fans of fish or seafood. They are added to breakfast, dinner, and lunch recipes, making it easy to pack vitamin D anytime. The egg yolk is particularly potent in the vitamin giving you 37 IUs.
However, this amount varies based on sun exposure, feed type, and chicken. Eggs from pasture-raised chicken, for example, have higher Vitamin D levels than those from ‘caged’ chicken. Although eggs are readily available, it’s important to eat them in moderation because they’re high in cholesterol.
3. Eating Mushrooms
Mushrooms are an excellent source of Vitamin D for vegetarians. While this wild plant has been studied for its effects on diseases like depression and cancer, some varieties are potent in Vitamin D.
Oysters, shiitake, maitake, chanterelle, and morel are examples of mushroom varieties rich in this vitamin. The maitake mushroom variety packs up plenty of the vitamin, usually 2348 IU for a serving of 100 grams.
What’s more, mushrooms exposed to UV light for a long time have higher levels of Vitamin D. They contain a precursor called ergosterol, which converts to Vitamin D once exposed to the sun’s rays.
4. Add Fortified Foods to Your Diet
Since not many foods are potent in Vitamin D, it’s added to staple foods through fortification. Such foods include:
- Soy milk: Soy milk is fortified with Vitamin D and other essential nutrients in cow milk. The amount of Vitamin D varies by brand, but a cup of 237 ml can give you 100-119 IU of the vitamin
- Orange juice: It’s an excellent alternative for lactose-intolerant people. Fortified orange juice contains 100IUs of the vitamin
- Cow milk: In addition to riboflavin, calcium, and phosphorus vitamins and minerals, cow milk may be fortified with Vitamin D to give you 115 IUs
- Cereals: Some cereals like wheat bran flakes, rice, and oatmeal are fortified with vitamin D. However, they don’t have a high percentage of the vitamin as natural sources, so you only want to add them to your diet to boost Vitamin D intake
5. Taking Supplements
Another way of getting Vitamin D without risking excessive sun exposure is by taking supplements. Most Vitamin D supplements provide 1000-2000 IUs which is safe for many people.
Cod liver oil is the most popular supplement. It’s an excellent substitute for fish and seafood and packs adequate levels of Vitamin D. Typically a 5 ml teaspoon contains 450 IU of Vitamin D. In addition to Vitamin D, cod oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
You must be keen to look for high-quality supplements which have been tested independently. With little regulation in producing and selling nutritional supplements, it’s easy to buy fake supplements.
Look out for supplements tested for quality by third parties like ConsumerLab.com, Informed-Choice, and the U.S. Pharmacopeia.
You no longer need to wonder how to get vitamin D without risking excessive sun exposure. You can add fish and seafood to your diet. If you’re vegetarian, look for certain mushroom varieties or food fortified with Vitamin D. Alternatively, take Vitamin D supplements. Remember, Vitamin D has many health benefits you don’t want to miss. From strengthening healthy bones and teeth, to reducing the risk of heart disease and enhancing the regeneration of injured muscles.
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