Nature’s Sunshine Vitamin: Is It Enough?

Why all the fuss about vitamin D?

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.

It was early afternoon when an elderly, pleasant-looking man walked into the clinic. I recognized him as a retired co-worker who loved gardening and being outdoors. He was currently caring for all the flowers and bushes at the housing complex where he lived, and also for the entire grounds of a large local church. He looked healthy and well-tanned. He returned my greeting and sat down in preparation for his yearly flu shot. As we talked together he proudly informed me he had just completed his physical health exam with a good report on everything except for low vitamin D levels. This was a surprise to him. His physician advised a vitamin D supplement to help correct the problem.


Vitamins C and E have long been the darlings of supplement users. But lately we hear more and more about the many important functions of vitamin D. Perhaps you are already aware that vitamin D promotes healthy bones, largely by facilitating the absorption of calcium. A deficiency brings increased risk of osteoporosis or osteomalacia (softening of the bones), especially in the elderly. Children who don’t get enough vitamin D are at risk for rickets—a bone disorder which causes them to soften and break easily.

Some other important benefits of vitamin D:

• It helps to lower blood cholesterol levels, aiding the fight against heart disease.

• It reduces the risk of certain cancers, including lung, prostate, breast, and some skin cancers.

• It helps to regulate the immune system. One three-year study saw a 70 percent reduction of colds in participants who were given vitamin D supplements.

• It may slow the aging process. One study showed that certain biological markers (called telomeres) were longer (a sign of youth and health) in participants with higher vitamin D.

• It stimulates the pancreas to make insulin, fighting Type I and Type II diabetes.

• It reduces depressive symptoms by contributing to the function of dopamine and norepinephrine, while also modulating the relationship between depression and inflammation.

• It reduces acne by helping the body fight infections.

• It can help with weight loss. Every body cell needs vitamin D to function properly—even despised fat cells. Vitamin D plugs into special receptors to signal whether you should burn fat or simply store it. With vitamin D plugged in, the result is much like a key that revs up the body’s flab-melting mechanism. Also, special receptors in the brain need vitamin D to keep hunger and cravings under control.

• Vitamin D also reduces the risk of cognitive impairment, according to ongoing studies, particularly in relation to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease


Not at all! Just step outside your front door. Sunshine is nature’s best source of vitamin D for our bodies; in fact, it is called the “Sunshine Vitamin.” Just a few minutes in sunshine can stimulate the production of vitamin D in the skin. If your vitamin D level is healthy, it can also help protect your skin from cancer development.

Most people can meet at least some of their vitamin D needs with sunshine. However, sunshine exposure through a window, on a cloudy day, through dark-colored skin, or through high-SPF sunscreen can be inadequate for the skin to successfully make vitamin D. People who are sensitive to the sun and who cover their bodies with clothing should include foods containing vitamin D in their diet or take a supplement.

Sources of vitamin D for a vegetarian include any fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy beverages. Mushrooms and leafy green vegetables and eggs provide variable amounts of vitamin D. Most milk and milk products are also fortified—but check labels to be certain. Vitamin D can also be found in supplement form, of which there are two different kinds: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). Either one taken regularly will increase vitamin D in the blood.


Your doctor can order a blood test, called the 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Levels below 30 Nano grams per milliliter (nmol/L) are too low for bone and overall health. Levels above 125 nmol/L are likely too high. Your doctor can suggest a treatment plan if you need one.

Most of the population is vitamin D deficient. Some possible contributing factors:

Age: With increasing age our skin becomes less efficient at making vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, as indicated by my clinic patient.

Babies: Breastfed infants may need extra vitamin D, as human milk is a poor source of the nutrient.

Skin Color: People with darker skin have less ability to produce vitamin D from the sun because of the pigmentation barrier.

Exposure: People with limited exposure to sunlight because of their jobs or routines often miss out on natural sources.

Location: People above 40 degrees north latitude won’t be able to make much vitamin D in the winter due to decreased sun exposure and quality of sunlight.

Disease: Those who have difficulty absorbing dietary fat because of inflammatory bowel disease or cystic fibrosis will be unable to absorb sunlight efficiently.

Medications: People who take medicines called glucocorticoids, such as prednisone, are at risk for low vitamin D.

Weight: Obese people are hindered from adequate benefits of sunlight because their body fat can bind to vitamin D and prevent most of it from getting into the blood.


Yes, when blood levels get too high. Toxicity signs include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, weight loss, confusion, disorientation, problems with heart rhythm, and kidney damage. It is impossible to acquire vitamin D poisoning from too much sunshine because the body limits the amount of this vitamin it produces. However toxicity can occur from overuse of vitamin D supplements.

Trying to get adequate vitamin D by long exposure to sunlight can result in harm to the skin and risk of skin cancers, including actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma. Here are some safe sunning suggestions:

1. Get your sun exposure in the morning before 10 a.m.

2. Limit sun exposure to 20 minutes.

3. Be sure not to use sunblock or sunscreen while sunning for vitamin D.

4. If you have any questions, consult with your physician.

Remember, the more skin that is exposed, the less time you need in the sun.


Information given in this article should not replace medical advice. Talk with your healthcare provider regarding vitamin D and the right course of treatment for you, based on your current health status. Find out today how you measure up.

Are you getting enough of the Sunshine Vitamin?

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.