V – Vitamin D

22

We’ve all been told we need to get plenty of Vitamin D, so our bodies can absorb calcium and phosphorous. Jack Charles wrote an excellent article for Eureka Tents in 2014 that clarified some other lesser known benefits of this hormone (yes, I just read that Vitamin D is actually a hormone—who knew?). Zach at All Things Appalachian Trail added a few more benefits to my list:

Vitamin D may…

  • Decrease your risk for heart disease and some cancers
  • Decrease the severity of asthma
  • Decrease your likelihood of depression
  • Decrease high blood pressure
  • Decrease your likelihood for multiple sclerosis (women)
  • Decrease your likelihood of Alzheimer’s
  • Decrease your likelihood of diabetes
  • Boost your immune system

As we’ve all been told, the easiest way to get Vitamin D is to expose ourselves to sunlight—and no, sunlight through a window isn’t the same as direct exposure. Our bodies are designed to function best when we get outside. Yes, it’s true that you can also get Vitamin D from other sources like some fish and even mushrooms, but these sources aren’t as efficient as sunlight.

One of the biggest challenges to the idea of stimulating our Vitamin D production from sunlight is skin cancer. Sunscreen blocks UV rays, which are needed for Vitamin D production. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we risk skin cancer; if we do wear sunscreen, we aren’t able to get our Vitamin D boost from the sun.

Clearly, this is a valid concern—and one we don’t discuss often enough. There are risks to being outside—but there are also risks to staying inside and inactive. Stephen Honig, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, in New York City, says just 20 to 25 minutes in the sunshine [without sunscreen] is helpful each day. Likewise, Australian epidemiologist Robyn Lucas argued that compared to the severity of problems associated with vitamin D deficiency, some sun exposure is the better option. I’ve read in places that 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is helpful. HOWEVER, the Skin Cancer Foundation says any unprotected sun exposure is too risky.

I am obviously not an expert in this topic. I like the idea of getting that Vitamin D boost from a natural source like the sun rather than from supplements, but I understand the risks involved. Sunscreen is an important part of any outdoor adventure. Fortunately, even if you avoid any unprotected sun exposure, getting outside will surely result in some Vitamin N(ature), as Richard Louv calls it.