At one time doctors prescribed sun exposure to treat diseases such as rickets and polio. But today we have a new reality. In fact, as parents we’ve become pros at blocking those harmful rays from landing anywhere near our child’s delicate skin.
The problem is we’re not just blocking harmful UVA and UVB rays; we’re also blocking opportunities to produce valuable vitamin D. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher blocks our ability to produce vitamin D by more than 98 percent.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D defi ciency increases a person’s risk of developing a number of debilitating diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and many common cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer. (In fact, in Canada, where our long winters limit our sun exposure, there’s a much higher percentage of these diseases compared to southern areas such as Georgia and South Carolina.)
In Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s report, Importance of Vitamin D, he says vitamin D also keeps our immune system going strong, helping to fight off flu and autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Want more? A healthy supply of vitamin D, sometimes described as a naturalantibiotic, allows us to more effi ciently absorb medicine. Vitamin D deficiency, uncommon since the nineteenth century, has made a comeback in young children. Dr. Karen McAssey, a Paediatric Endocrinologist who runs a calcium disorders clinic at McMaster Children’s
Hospital, says she’s seeing more and more cases of rickets and osteoporosis in young children. McAssey says it’s partly because there’s almost no vitamin D in breast milk, but another contributing factor is that children aren’t receiving adequate sun exposure. Our bodies make
vitamin D quickly and efficiently with a little casual exposure to sunlight. In 10 minutes we produce 20,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D.
McAssey says parents should give their children a vitamin D supplement (400–800 IU a day) especially between October and April. “Drinking a cup of vitamin D fortifi ed milk at every meal is the best way for kids to get vitamin D from food sources,” she says.
Sun protection should be used for children on a regular basis, but she says, “Parents should allow their children opportunities to be exposed to very short periods – up to 10 minutes – of sun exposure without sunscreen so they can produce ample vitamin D.” Clearly, we may want to rethink that ‘zero tolerance’ approach to a few rays of sunshine.
VITAMIN D FRIENDLY FOODS
• Cod-liver oil (1 tbsp): 1,360 IU
• Cooked tuna, sardines, mackerel, salmon (3–3.5 oz): 200–360 IU
• Dried shitake mushrooms (3.5 oz): 1,600 IU
• Egg yolk: 20 IU
• Fortified milk, dairy products, orange juice or cereal (one serving): 60–100 IU
Of course you’re going to keep protecting your kids from too much sun with the following:
• A broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 (and use an ounce to cover all exposed body parts)
• Tightly woven clothes that cover the arms and legs
• A wide-brimmed hat (offers better protection than a baseball cap or visor)
• SPF 15 lip balm (reapply every hour)
KEEPING SUSCREENS EFFECTIVE
Watch Out! These things make sunscreen less effective
• The expiration date (chemicals in the sunscreen break down and compromise effectiveness after is expiry date)
• A hot glove compartment or beach bag (head accelerates deterioration)
• High humidity
• Drying your skin with a towel
VITAMIN D AND IT’S BENEFITS
Vitamin D works like a hormone, sending messages to the intestines to absorb more calcium and phosphorus, and it’s the only vitamin the body can produce itself.
Vitamin D affects the following:
• Immune cells
• Prostate gland
• Skin keratinocytes