When it comes to your health, vitamin D is a superstar. Science shows that in addition to keeping your bones strong, high levels of this “sunshine vitamin” can help protect you against cancer, depression, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Moreover, research reveals that high vitamin D levels may cut your risk of having a heart attack in half.
The best way to get your vitamin D, of course, is to catch some rays every day—but that can be tough in the wintertime if you’re up in the frozen north. (Right now in my neck of the woods, it’s 31 degrees… not exactly sunbathing weather!) In fact, living in higher latitudes is a big risk factor for vitamin D deficiency.
But did you know that you might not be getting enough vitamin D even if you live in sunny California? Here are some factors that can put you at risk for a deficiency no matter what part of the world you’re in.
1. Your skin tone.
The more melanin your skin contains, the less vitamin D you’ll produce. In fact, African Americans may need six times as much sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as people with fair skin.
2. Your sunscreen.
If you’re constantly slathering on SPF 15 lotion, you’re creating a barrier that stops your skin from making vitamin D. Save that lotion for times when you’ll be out in the sun for longer than half an hour.
3. Your fashion choices.
Your skin can synthesize vitamin D only if you expose it to sunlight. So if your taste runs to jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and hats, you’ll get a much smaller dose of vitamin D when you’re in the sun than you would in shorts or a sundress.
4. The level of pollution where you live.
Pollutants can block UV rays from reaching your skin. In fact, heavy pollution can reduce available UV rays by 60%.
5. Your gut health.
A sick gut absorbs less vitamin D than a healthy gut. To keep your gut glowing and promote optimal vitamin D absorption, take probiotics and eat fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut on a regular basis.
6. Your age.
As you get older, your skin gets less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D—and that means you’ll need more sun exposure to get the same benefit.
7. Your weight.
If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to be deficient in vitamin D. And here’s another caution: Gastric bypass surgery can also put you at risk, by reducing the ability of your intestines to absorb vitamin D.
8. Your medications.
Don’t take chances!
Vitamin D is so crucial to your health that you don’t want to take a gamble on getting enough. So I recommend having your doctor check your vitamin D status, especially if you have any of the risk factors I’ve mentioned.
Also, load your diet with foods that contain vitamin D. The best sources are oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Eggs and beef liver also provide some vitamin D, and so do mushrooms if they’re exposed to sunlight.
Above all, don’t be “scared sunless.” In recent decades, dermatologists have gone way overboard in cautioning people about sun exposure. Obviously, you don’t want to spend hours in the sun without protection. But a small dose of sunshine every day is a powerful prescription for good health—and it may even save your life.
Keep thinking big and living bold!