The Vitamin D Paradox: To Sun, or Not to Sun?

Maybe it's unpopular to admit this, but I'm a total sun junkie.

Sun junkies -- or at least in my definition of them -- are people who are sensible enough to wear sunscreen, but who also constantly sneak in ways to bask in illicit UVA and UVB rays. We stake out sunny cafe windows, soak up rays from a park bench, and spend quality time reading in a comfy lawn chair.

So, I'm pretty thrilled to see all the positive new buzz surrounding vitamin D -- which is absorbed through the sun's ultraviolet rays.

A new study shows that vitamin D, long known to benefit our bones, may also be a powerful weapon to prevent cancer. It suggests that vitamin D can drastically reduce the risk of several types of cancer by as much as 60 percent.

Vitamin D may also protect us from all sorts of other ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression, chronic pain, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Along with the sun, vitamin D is also found in milk, eggs, orange juice, fish, fortified cereals, and more. But it seems that sunlight contains a stronger variant of vitamin D -- which means that it's a lot healthier than the stuff in multivitamins.

So, now the question becomes just how much sun should we absorb on a regular basis.

The fact is, no one seems to have that answer, and it could be a while before the medical community determines a new recommended daily allowance for sunshine and vitamin D.

Until then, some health experts speculate that people may not be getting as much vitamin D as they need. In the wake of the new vitamin D studies, perhaps the requirements have been underestimated (if you're concerned, a doctor can test for a deficiency).

Other experts, however, worry that the news about vitamin D will give people a free pass to forget their sunscreen. Also, too much vitamin D—not to mention sunshine—can be harmful to us.

Naturally, I don't want to take unnecessary chances with the sun (I did enough damage as a teenager!), and I am well-aware of the growing incidence of skin cancer in this country.

So, I guess now it just comes down to trying to strike the right balance. A little exposure to unadulterated sun is vital to good health. Too much leads to premature aging, sunburn and, worst of all, the risk of skin cancer.

Common sense tells us that soaking up a few minutes of sun each day probably helps keep the doctor away -- but even a sun junkie like me wouldn't push it further than that.

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