Results from a clinical review published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association find nearly 1 billion people worldwide may have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D due to chronic disease and inadequate sun exposure related to sunscreen use.

The study also found that 95 percent of African American adults may have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Vitamin D variations among races are attributed to differences in skin pigmentation.

People are spending less time outside and, when they do go out, they’re typically wearing sunscreen, which essentially nullifies the body’s ability to produce vitamin D,” said Kim Pfotenhauer, DO, assistant professor at Touro University and a researcher on this study. “While we want people to protect themselves against skin cancer, there are healthy, moderate levels of unprotected sun exposure that can be very helpful in boosting vitamin D.”

read more

Dr. Stegall’s Comments: We have good evidence to suggest that vitamin D is actually more like a hormone, given its many effects in the body. Long known for its role in strengthening bone and connective tissue, vitamin D also provides immune system support and is also though to keep the heart and brain healthy. Simply going outside and ingesting dairy products is not sufficient if you hope to have an optimal vitamin D level. The level to check on a blood test is 25-OH vitamin D, and it should be at least 50 for most patients. In cancer, I shoot for a level of 80-100.

In order to achieve this optimal vitamin D level, supplementation is essential. Getting some vitamin D from the sun provides a nice bonus as well, and I recommend being outside for 15-20 minutes before applying sunscreen. This allows for the body to receive some vitamin D from the sun, while also avoiding extensive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.

The question then becomes, what kind of sunscreen should I use? I like to use a more natural sunscreen with as few harmful chemicals as possible. Shoot for an SPF of at least 15, if not 30. I also recommend that you use a daily moisturizer on your face which contains SPF 15. This will reduce sun damage and aging from incidental sun exposure, which we typically don’t think about.