By Lexie Runge
Women throughout the Valley are discovering that their frequent fatigue is not just a result of stress or lack of sleep – it is actually linked to vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is fortified in a variety of foods, but we get a majority of our vitamin D from the sun’s UVB rays. According to Scottsdale Holistic Health, sunlight exposure accounts for 90 percent of your body’s vitamin D levels. Simply living in a sunny state like Arizona does not guarantee that you’ll receive the proper amounts of vitamin D. In fact, many Arizona residents are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, as people have become more than diligent about protecting themselves from the sun’s rays.
It is true that excessive amounts of sunlight can be linked to skin cancer, but a mere 15 to 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen protection can be good for you. There is no need to feel guilty about getting some sun on a Saturday, just do so in moderation.
Elizabeth Jacobs Ph.D. is a cancer epidemiologist at the Arizona Cancer Center and gives some guidelines about sun exposure.
“People with lighter skin can do 10 to 15 minutes in the sun with their face and arms exposed. People with darker skin would require 30 minutes,” Jacobs said. “Certain folks who are susceptible to skin cancer and burning absolutely should not do this.”
Jacobs also stresses that tanning for the sole purpose of vitamin D exposure will actually reduce your ability to absorb UVB rays. In a recent study, Jacobs and her co-workers examined UVB rays and melanin, a pigment in the skin. The study indicated that individuals with darker skin have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
“Our work showed that in Southern Arizona approximately 20 percent of Whites, 35 percent of Hispanics, and over 50 percent of African-Americans are vitamin D deficient,” Jacobs said.
Infants, the elderly, and individuals suffering from obesity are most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency.
Monitoring sun exposure will provide the body with the vitamin D it needs to provide protection from diseases such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D also helps the body maintain levels of blood sugar and aids in calcium absorption, which strengthens bones.
For those who do not enjoy getting sun or must wear sunscreen because of fair skin, there are many other natural ways to get vitamin D. Fish oil, butter, egg yolks and dairy are among many foods fortified with vitamin D; however, these foods only provide about 10 percent of the vitamin D your body requires.
Side effects of vitamin D deficiency include chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, and in some cases chronic pain or depression. More severe results include rickets (a disease that causes softening and distortion of the bones in children), tuberculosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
In recent months, primary care doctors have become more aware of vitamin D deficiency and are performing blood tests on patients more frequently. For more information about vitamin D deficiency, visit Arizona Cancer Center at www.azcc.arizona.edu.