Ballard Naturopathic Blog | All posts tagged 'vitamin-d'

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Everybody's Free to Wear It...

July 5, 2011

Sunscreen. Sun block. Suntan lotion. What exactly is SPF? How much is enough? What is the FDA doing about it?

Now that we've (finally) got some sunshine in Seattle, it's time for a talk about sunscreen. Sunscreen is formed of organic and inorganic particles that are designed to block and/or absorb ultraviolet (UV) light from ths sun. Physical sunscreens reflect light, Chemical sunscreens absorb light. Many products have both forms inside. Blocking sunlight also blocks vitamin D creation, an issue that many patients have concerns about.

The SPF number reflects how well a sunscreen protects against UVB light, the type of UV ray that causes squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. It does not measure protection against UVA rays which cause melanoma or infrared light which also affects sun damage levels. UVB causes the most common types of skin cancer, but UVA causes the most deadly. SPF is, unfortunately, very inaccurate because most people don't put on enough. Also, wiping it off, swimming, and sweating all minimize its effectiveness, regardless of whether it is labeled "sweatproof" or "waterproof". Plus, we're supposed to be reapplying it every 2 hours, right? An SPF of 15 means that, theoretically, you're protected for 15 times longer than you would be without sunscreen. This, of course, doesn't take into account the changes in sun exposure throughout the day as the sun changes position in the sky.

The FDA has passed new regulations recently which will go into effect next year. These will require sunscreens to show that they block UVA and UVB rays in order to be labeled "broad spectrum" and only products with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to prevent sun damage, wrinkles, and skin cancer. Further, no sunscreen manufacturers can label products as having an SPF higher than 50 because there is not enough evidence to prove that going above an SPF of 50 increases the benefit. The term "sunblock" can no longer be used, nor can "sweat-proof" or "water-proof". Instead, a product can be labeled "water-resistant", but then must state for how long, 40 or 80 minutes.

As always, staying out of the sun, avoiding tanning beds, and covering up with hats and long-sleeved clothing are very important in order to prevent sun damage, wrinkles, and cancer. If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor about alternate sources or about safer ways to get vitamin D naturally.

For more info:

Understanding Sunscreen Products - FDA

FDA Cracks down on Sunscreen Claims, bans 'sunblock'

What IS Sunscreen?

Skin Cancer, Sun, and Sunscreen

The Dark Night

October 27, 2010

We're entering the time of year when many people get up and dressed in the dark, drive to work in the dark, and then drive home in the dark, after sitting all day in an office with fluorescent lighting. Many of us are exhausted all the time, regardless of our sleep habits. We need sun, really need it. Our bodies use sunlight to activate vitamin D, which is used in so many chemical reactions, from absorbing calcium in the digestive tract to supporting immune function and brain health. Without vitamin D, we find ourselves lethargic, depressed, with poor digestion, low back pain, and not functioning at our best mentally.

In the state of Washington, something like 80% of people are clinically vitamin D deficient, the highest rate in any of the 50 states, including Alaska. Washington also has the highest rates of MS, depression, and certain kinds of cancers. Not only that, but in many cases, people who test within the normal range (lab values between 30-100 are a typical normal range), may still not be getting enough vitamin D to adequately absorb all their dietary calcium. Values greater than 50 are necessary to properly absorb calcium, which is used in bone health (as we all know), brain function and also in muscle contraction and relaxation (skeletal, smooth, and cardiac). Without adequate absorption, our bodies begin to break down bone cells to release calcium, leading to osteopenia and, in some cases, osteoporosis. This bone damage begins in our 20s and women are particularly susceptible although it can happen to men, too. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or weight training, is also important to help maintain healthy bones, but without the calcium to lay down over the lattice of bone cells, bones become brittle and more prone to fracture.

 The vitamin D test is a very simple, cost-effective blood test that can be performed at any time of day (you don't have to be fasting) and is covered as a standard laboratory test by almost every insurance plan. Supplementation with vitamin D is an essential tool for getting through the dark winters of the Northwest and should be done under a doctor's care. Most over-the-counter supplements are either in a poorly absorbable tablet or are in insufficient dosages to have any significant effect on vitamin D deficiency. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that should be taken with food to aid in its absorption. Adults, pregnant women, and children all have varying recommended dosages and should seek professional testing and advice from their family naturopath before beginning supplementation.

And the most important caveat: Don't use tanning beds to try to ramp up your D levels. They project both the vitamin D- enhancing UVB light as well as the skin cancer-inducing UVA. Stay out of the tanning beds!