Soaking Up Vitamin D?
Enough Sunlight or Too Much??
Too much sun is bad for your skin, but it's also an important source of vitamin D.
Just how important is vitamin D anyway and how much sunlight do you need?
Sun exposure affects the skin throughout a person’s lifetime. The sun emits an invisible form of radiation called ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can damage the skin. There are three types of UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet C (UVC). UVA rays are the most abundant rays at the earth’s surface, whereas UVB rays are the most harmful.
UVC rays are especially damaging to the skin. However, they are completely absorbed by the ozone layer (the protective layer in the earth’s atmosphere) and never reach the surface of the earth.
UV radiation interacts with the skin and causes it to produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. When the darker colored melanin reaches the top layer of the skin, it results in a “suntan.” Eventually, the UV rays will cause the skin to burn. Sunburn is often accompanied by redness, swelling and pain in the affected region(s).
Some people tan very easily and rarely burn, whereas others burn very easily and rarely develop a tan. A variety of factors determine whether an individual tans or burns after sun exposure, including skin type, amount of recent sun exposure and time of year.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D is a nutrient required to build and maintain strong bones, the frame for the body. The presence of vitamin D signals the intestines to absorb more of the minerals calcium and phosphorus from food into the blood.
These two minerals and vitamin D are involved in bone remodeling to help make bones denser and stronger.
Other roles of the vitamin are being investigated, and may include maintaining the immune and nervous systems.
The body can develop a deficiency of vitamin D. Children with insufficient vitamin D may develop rickets, a condition associated with skeletal abnormalities. Bone degradation such as osteomalacia may occur in adults, resulting in a stooped posture and bowed legs. If the deficiency progresses, osteoporosis develops and the bones become thin, brittle and more easily fractured.
Unlike other vitamins, the body can usually produce all the vitamin D it needs. It is created when exposure to sunlight causes a chemical reaction in the skin that changes a product of cholesterol into an inactive form of vitamin D. The inactive form moves to the liver and the kidneys, where it undergoes additional changes to become a form of vitamin D the body can use.
Inactive forms of vitamin D are also available in certain foods and supplements. Significant dietary sources include cod liver, fatty fish and fortified foods (e.g. milk, margarine, cereals, fruit juices). Similar to vitamin D from sunlight, the inactive forms of vitamin D from food must also be processed by the liver and kidneys to become active.
People are advised to use vitamin D supplements only under the guidance of physician. Overdoses are hazardous and have the potential to cause kidney stones and the hardening of blood vessels. Arterial damage in the lungs or heart can be potentially fatal.
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