Monday, July 23, 2012

Beach Days and Vitamin D

I got to spend some time at the beach when I was visiting Florida this past weekend and it really made me miss it! I grew up in Naples so I used to be quite the beach bum. Here are some of my photos:

I brought my lunch, from Whole Foods, to the beach. I love their salad bar because it has so much variety and plenty of vegan options.

I also stayed hydrated with coconut water. It would be awesome to just crack open a real coconut on the beach and drink the water but oh well.

Being at the beach got me thinking about sun exposure, vitamin D, and SPF. I have to admit, I like being tan and I've traditionally not been good about using SPF. My skin is olive-toned and I don't burn easily, especially in the northern states. I also admit that I do go to tanning beds occasionally. I used to go much more in college to get "ready" for spring break but I've actually only gone a handful of times in the past 2 years. Growing up in Florida with warmth and sun all year round really makes me miss it in the northern winter and tanning does actually lift my mood.

My main issue with the propaganda about wearing SPF on your entire body all the time is that we need vitamin D and the best way to get it is by exposing your skin to the sun. Vitamin D is perhaps the most important vitamin (close with C) to boosting your immune system. Vitamin D deficiency, common among middle/upper class or white collar people, has been possibly linked to some diseases, even autism (mother is vitamin D deficient).

When you google "vitamin D," you get a lot of conflicting opinions from a lot of different doctors and studies. Some say that you can get enough of the vitamin in your diet (mostly animal foods) and that you should avoid the sun at all costs. While others say that you don't get enough vitamin D from your diet and that you should get some sun exposure because it is thought to lower the risk of some cancers. So the main question I see is the risk of skin cancer vs the risk of vitamin D deficiency, and I don't think anyone knows the right answer yet.

I'm definitely more in the "some sun exposure" camp. First of all, since the invention and use of sunscreen with SPF, skin cancer rates have not decreased and have actually increased quite drastically (this could also be due to the reduction of the o-zone layer). Second of all, before homes, offices, and cars, humans were in the sun all the time, so we evolved to handle some exposure to it. Lastly, I think that sun exposure can be included in the hormesis theory of radiation. This theory states that low amounts of radiation (basically what we get from background every day, including the sun) are actually beneficial rather than harmful. When your body is exposed to radiation, it learns how to deal with it by killing cells that may be harmed. If you lived in a lead box with no radiation exposure and then went outside, your body wouldn't know how to handle it. So perhaps if you stay away from the sun completely, and then get some exposure one day, your body doesn't know how to deal with it. (This is similar to the idea behind vaccines.) I'm not a doctor and I've come to these conclusions logically and not by research, so I could be completely wrong. However, I'm not convinced that the sun should be 100% avoided. I'd also rather get vitamin D naturally than by supplements. I may also be increasing my risk for skin cancer.

Do you use SPF sunscreen every day?

Do you take a vitamin D supplement?

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