Getting some sun: it's all about balance

Published on June 2, 2015


It's finally that time of year when we can finally come out of hibernation, ditch our winter coats and layers of clothing and soak up the sun's rays. Unfortunately, this can also mean it’s a time for blistering, sunburns and potential skin damage.

As I mentioned in earlier articles, we need to have fun in the sun but we also need to be informed about how to have that fun without causing ourselves harm. We have every reason to be concerned about the ill effects of sun exposure and skin cancer. On the flipside, there is also a growing concern in Canada about a lack of adequate sunshine leading to an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency.

The main source of vitamin D is actually produced endogenously (meaning our bodies make it internally) when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit the surface of our skin. There are also good food sources of vitamin D. These include cod liver oil, oily fish (such as salmon and sardines), and vitamin D-fortified foods (milk, breakfast cereals and bread).  However, the Vitamin D obtained from sun exposure, food, and supplements is useless to the body until the liver and kidneys convert it into a form we can use. In addition, vitamin D is considered a fat-soluble vitamin – meaning, the absorption of vitamin D from our food is enhanced by the presence of bile and fat in the digestive tract.

Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from our food which is necessary in building strong bones. It is also essential for maintaining proper immune function (including the prevention of infections and autoimmune conditions and decreasing inflammation), the regulation of insulin and proper thyroid function.

It makes sense then that vitamin D deficiency can result from both a lack of sun exposure, and for individuals with chronic liver disease and diseases of the small intestine (e.g., celiac disease, Crohn's disease) from impaired vitamin D absorption.

Severe vitamin D deficiency in children causes rickets or a softening of the bones. In adults, this is known as osteomalacia. Muscle weakness can be an early sign of vitamin D deficiency, along with low back pain, along with all over body aches and pains, fatigue and head sweating. In fact, according to a group of investigators, vitamin D deficiency can disguise itself as fibromyalgia, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Tips to maintaining a healthy level of vitamin D:

Get some sun. This is all about timing and moderation: expose your arms and legs to sunlight for five to 15 minutes two to three times per week between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the warmer months. After the initial five to 15 minutes of sunlight exposure, apply a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 and maximum of 50 (for more information on sunscreen and to see how your sun-care product rates, visit

Optimize proper digestive function. As previously stated, proper dietary vitamin D absorption requires a healthy digestive system. If you get a lot of gas and bloating after a meal, burping or heartburn, have had your gallbladder removed or have diarrhea, chances are you are not digesting and absorbing your food properly. Talk to your health care provider about addressing your digestive health concerns.

Take a vitamin D supplement. A lot of research is showing that despite sun exposure in the summer, many Canadians remain deficient. In this case, supplementation is necessary. It is important to note, since vitamin D is fat-soluble, after long-term supplementation at high levels, it may accumulate in tissues and can become toxic. Please talk to your health care provider before starting a vitamin D supplement to make sure the dose is right for you. You can also ask your doctor to check your vitamin D status on your next routine blood work.


Dr. Amy Punké, ND, has a naturopathic practice at Whole Self Wellness Centre, 106 Stellarton Rd., New Glasgow (above Healthy Selection). Visit or call 902-755-1210.