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Are You Sunscreening Out Vitamin D?

Q. I use sunscreen daily because I have red hair and fair skin, but I love the outdoors. A lab test shows that I am vitamin D deficient. How can I balance my need for sunscreen and the need for sun exposure to make vitamin D?

A. Vitamin D has been getting far more attention in recent years, as scientists realized that it is critical for many other functions in addition to building strong bones. Recent studies show that adequate vitamin D in early childhood reduces the risk of developing type 1 (juvenile) diabetes (Archives of Disease in Childhood, June, 2008; Diabetologia, online, June 5, 2008).

Vitamin D is also important for controlling blood pressure and preventing several types of cancer. In older adults, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to falls as well as muscle and joint pain (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, May 2008).

With your fair skin, you need to be careful to avoid sunburn. It just takes a few minutes of sun exposure a day without sunscreen for your skin to manufacture the building block for vitamin D.

To learn more about the consequences of low vitamin D and how to replenish vitamin D stores, you may want to listen to the radio show we did focusing on this topic. We interviewed Drs. James Dowd and Michael Holick about the research and clinical evidence regarding vitamin D. Anyone who would like to order this one-hour CD may send $16 to Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy (CD-672); PO Box 52027; Durham, NC 27717-2027.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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