A bit of sunshine has been credited with health benefits as varied as easing depression to providing necessary vitamins to the body. Although the sun has many benefits for people, health and otherwise, it does not give off vitamins. However, sunlight does begin a synthesis in the body that allows it to make its own vitamin D, says Julie Conner, nutritionist and owner of Healthy Weighs, a nutrition and wellness center in Brookfield, Conn.
Vitamin D Benefits
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning that it requires the presence of some fat to be absorbed into the intestinal tract. The vitamin strengthens bones, helps to prevent osteoporosis, staves off heart disease and provides protection again cancers of the breast, colon and prostate, according to U.S. News and World Report. The lack of vitamin D can lead to bone pain and disease in children, including rickets and asthma. According to the Vitamin D Council, the vitamin is formed in the body when sunlight of the correct wavelength hits exposed skin and creates a chemical reaction with the fats stored in the liver.
Though the sun provides benefits in helping to synthesize Vitamin D and is touted to help fight depression and seasonal affective disorder, it also poses risks such as sunburn and skin cancers. Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 45 or above, Conner advises. Don't worry that the sunscreen will keep you from getting the sunlight's benefits. Most lotions block the UVA rays but not the UVB rays that help the body synthesize vitamin D. However, the UVB rays pose risk of sunburn as well, which is why it's better not to spend more than the recommended time in the sun.
Fifteen minutes twice a week is enough for vitamin D synthesis. And you don't need to be lying out in a swimsuit, either. Taking a morning walk around your neighborhood with your face, arms and hands exposed will provide the full benefit. The body is able to synthesize the nutrient very quickly, meaning it can make far more than the recommended daily allowance of 5 micrograms, or 200 international units, per day in the time it takes to walk around the block.
Other Sources of Vitamin D
Don't worry if you can't get into the sun regularly or if your exposure is limited in the winter. Vitamin D can be found in most daily vitamins as well as fortified dairy products from milks to yogurts and some fish such as tuna and salmon, Conner says. People who live in far northern or southern latitudes will need to get their vitamin D from sources other than the sun in winter because UVB rays don't penetrate far enough at that time of year.
Moderation is the key, and you won't get further vitamin-production benefit from spending more than the recommended 15 minutes in the sun's rays. Try not to go out during the sunniest part of the day, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Conner advises.