It’s officially summer here in South Africa making it a great time to go out and get some vitamin D…
Or is it?
Most of us know that one of the biggest causes of skin cancer is the sun. Many of us know that the sun is one of the best sources of vitamin D too however.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who takes a vitamin D supplement during the winter at least. We know that vitamin D is important.
But which is really the best way to get it?
Vitamin D Benefits
Vitamin D is absolutely essential for humans of all ages.
The reason I take vitamin D in the winter is because, although I haven’t been diagnosed or even seen someone about it, I am pretty sure I get a touch of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) during winter. And let’s face it, there aren’t a whole lot of vegan sources unless you eat fortified foods.
Of course, it could also just be that I seem to get colder than most people and have to wear a million layers. Taking 20 minutes just to get all my clothes on and look twice my size makes me mif.
But in all honesty, winter just isn’t my season. It rains in the winter here. Thankfully we’ve had a decent amount of rain this season. But, I’m sorry to say that I was secretly happy when it wasn’t raining as much… but drought… eish.
Seriously, it’s gloomy a lot of the time. The sun rises late here so getting up early is harder than normal. I’m a night person, so getting up early sucks in general, but it’s especially bad in winter.
It’s also pretty cold on sunshine days and in the past, I avoided going outside. The result for me is feeling pretty mopey and a severe lack of motivation.
The weight gain I think is a norm for most people during the winter. What I learnt this year is lockdown plus winter makes weight gain even worse.
But aside from the shiz that I’m sure has gotten many of us down this year, I do a lot better when I take a vitamin D supplement and brave going outside into the light for a little bit.
Here are some more benefits of vitamin D:
- Healthier bones
- Stronger immune system
- It helps to keep your lungs and cardiovascular system healthy
- Better mood
- Possibly better weight loss
- It plays a role in regulating your insulin and thereby blood sugar levels
Vitamin D and Sun Exposure
This is my favourite way to get vitamin D.
Anyone who knew me as a child and in my early twenties will tell you, I love being out in the sun. In my teens and early twenties, tanning was my mission in life. I like having a nice tan.
But then I found out that tanning is bad too. DNA damage, cancer risk, premature ageing. Noooooooooooooo! The horror. I even tried faking it for a while.
But the reason they put antioxidants into self-tan lotion is because the compound that causes the staining of the skin, DHA (Dihydroxyacetone), not to be confused with omega 3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), causes issues like cell death and possibly cancer.
DO NOT BREATHE FAKE TAN IN! It can damage your lungs.
So being the paranoid person I am, I stopped using it. My husband was also much happier, he hated that slightly orange-toned brown.
Self-tan is probably not nearly as harmful as my brain makes it out to be. But do yourself a favour and stick to the lotions if you’re going to do it. Say no to aerosol self-tan.
Anyway, I have joined the ranks of the spooks:
I do realise, I’m not super pale, but I am certainly more pale than I’d like.
I do get sun exposure, but I make sure that I only have about 10-15 minutes if I’m not wearing sunscreen. I always wear sunscreen on my face.
How Much Sun Exposure do You Need?
For those of us with a lighter skin complexion, 10-15 minutes is fine. Those of you with dark and very dark complexions will need 30 minutes or even up to 3 hours.
You only need to do this two or three times a week and preferably without sunscreen. Just make sure you don’t burn… or tan 😦
Just also note, that if you are further from the equator, like we are here in South Africa, you will struggle a bit with getting vitamin D from the sun in winter.
The problem isn’t as bad in South Africa depending on where you are. I recommend getting a weather app that tracks the UV index. You want it to be at 3 or higher.
Just note that if the UV index is higher than 5, you want to stay out of the sun. From 6 and up the risk of burning is very high.
If you prefer to stay out of the sun, a supplement may be in order.
Taking a Vitamin D Supplement
A supplement with between 400IU to 600IU is fine for adults up to 70 years old. Older people may need to take a dosage 800IU to protect their bones.
Vitamin D3 is the form that is easiest to absorb but vitamin D2 is also beneficial.
Vegans and Vitamin D
Aside from fortified foods, here are the sources of vitamin D in the diet:
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Beef liver
In the warmer months, I don’t take a vitamin D supplement since I go out into the sun. We do eat foods that contain vitamin D like Lifestyle almond milk from Dischem and some cereals.
Before I took a vitamin D supplement this year, I had some blood tests done (precisely because of getting cold easily and my anxiety). My doctor thought I may have an underactive thyroid.
Good news, no thyroid issues. I just need to learn how to relax. My cortisol was high.
She also had me tested for some other vitamins and minerals after finding out I was vegan.
We were eating like crap at the time. But even so, I wasn’t deficient in any of the nutrients, including vitamin D. But they were low with the exception of my calcium and B12 levels.
Note, I don’t take a calcium supplement.
Booya to anyone who ever told me I will have bad bones due to low calcium levels because I don’t drink milk. 😁
Anyway, I promptly went out and got a vitamin D supplement to take for the rest of winter. I also stocked up on leafy greens and have made sure to eat much better for the most part.
Vitamin D Deficiency
You may be experiencing multiple symptoms or even all of them if your vitamin D deficiency is severe enough:
- Frequent bouts of illness
- Pain in your bones
- Bone loss
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
- Feeling tired or lack of stamina
Who is at Risk?
Not everyone is going to struggle. Between some sun exposure and vitamin D from food, many people are fine. But you do have a higher risk of deficiency if:
- You are elderly
- You are overweight or obese
- If you have a dark complexion
- If you stay indoors a lot and don’t consume food sources
- People who live far from the equator, especially during winter
- If you live in an area with very little sun
Sunscreen Doesn’t Cause Vitamin D Deficiency
SPF 50 broad spectrum sunscreen blocks 98% of the suns rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 15 only blocks 93%.
This leaves you with 7% to 2% of rays coming through to produce vitamin D. So don’t stop using sunscreen if you’re out in the sun for long periods of time.
It still provides up to 50% protection from skin cancer and according to skincancer.org, your chances of premature ageing are reduced by 24%.
You shouldn’t just wear sunblock outside. UVA rays which are more harmful than UVB rays and cause premature ageing come through the windows too.
If there’s sun, there are UV rays coming in.
I will say that except for your face, you can skip the sunscreen if you’re only getting 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight.
It’s rather an issue if you rarely get any sun and yet religiously slather sunscreen all over.
If you’re in the southern hemisphere, enjoy summer and the sun responsibly. If you’re on the other half of the earth, consider taking a supplement.
Your body gets rid of excess vitamin D pretty easily. Stick to the recommended dosage and you’ll be fine, you may even find you feel better if this has been what was causing any issues for you.
Either way, enjoy this festive and holiday season.
Stay happy and healthy 🙂