Most of us love a quick health fix in pill form, something to protect against illness, with minimal effort. For years, one of the go-to supplements has been vitamin D, thought to do everything from preventing cancer to strengthening bones.
Americans take too many supplements, and they don't need them
"An estimated 1 out of 2 Americans are taking some kind of supplement or vitamin," Dr. Erin D. Michos, associate professor of medicine in cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in a new paper published on July 9th. "For the vast majority of vitamins, we did not find any benefit, either in reduction in death or cardiovascular health."
Specifically, on vitamin D, a new research, published in JAMA Cardiology, combined the results of 21 randomized clinical trials to look at whether vitamin D supplementation was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or strokes.
The findings — based on studies involving 83,000 patients — were pretty straightforward: Vitamin D supplementation was not associated with any cardiovascular benefit.
This study adds to the pile of evidence that supplementation is useless for most people. Of course, there are some cases when supplementation can be helpful: during pregnancy, for example, or for people who have been diagnosed with health conditions that may lead to vitamin deficiencies, like liver disease or multiple sclerosis. People with asthma, those who don’t get into the sun at all (like the homebound or institutionalized), or those from ethnic backgrounds with darker skin — African, Afro-Caribbean, and South Asian — may also benefit from a supplement.
Direct exposure to sunlight is by far the best way to get vitamin D
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun's UVB rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.
Just by being outdoors with your arms or legs uncovered can get you a fair amount of sun exposure and generate sun-related vitamin D. The problem comes from prolonged exposure to strong and direct sunlight, and this is not to be confused with what we’re saying here: we’re certainly not encouraging you to take risks of developing skin cancer or melanoma. Prolonged exposure should be avoided, or precautions should be taken to be properly protected.
But if you get enough sun-generated vitamin D during the spring and summer months, your body should have enough to take you through the winter and keep you healthy. There is not one universal answer to how much is needed because it depends on many factors, but consistent and reasonable exposure at least 2 to 3 times a week during the spring-summer months should do it. Unlike with supplements, you won't OD from sunlight generated vitamin D, your body just naturally eliminates the excess (if any).
And what about the food?
Your diet is another great source of vitamin D, as long as you include the right food: cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and sardines are good sources of vitamin D. That said, you would need to eat them nearly every day to get enough vitamin D. hence the need for sun exposure as a natural complement.
If you do not get enough sunlight, it’s often recommended to take a supplement like cod liver oil. One tablespoon (14 grams) of cod liver oil contains more than three times the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, according to SelfNutritionData.
Vitamin D Deficiency or minimal levels: either or, we have you covered!
We regularly see statistics saying that more than 40% (or more, or less) of American adults have a vitamin D deficiency. It’s actually unclear whether it’s a real deficiency or minimal levels. Professional medical groups can’t even agree on a cutoff. One sure thing is that our increasingly indoors lifestyle decreases our natural sun exposure and mechanically our sun-generated vitamin D, dragging our levels down. It’s important to note that the sun’s UVB rays cannot penetrate through windows. So people who work next to sunny windows won’t get their cut.
What counts is outdoor, unprotected sun exposure, with the arms and legs exposed, preferably around mid-day when UV-B are at ther peak, for a reasonable length of time. Download our Sun Keeper app to know how long you need! It depends on your skin tone, where you are at that moment, and the day and time. Sun Keeper is free, and it manages it all.
And don’t forget to always protect your face and delicate areas such as neck and décolleté with a good anti-photo-aging skincare. Incidental Sun Smart Serum has been formulated just for that.