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Do I need vitamin D even in the Summer?

By Matt Cavallo
It is summer time. That means warmer weather, longer daylight hours and plenty sunshine. With the sunshine comes more opportunities to get natural exposure of vitamin D. As a person living with MS, vitamin D is a vital part of my treatment regimen.
There is a lot of discussion around what is the right level of vitamin D in your blood. For many, the normal range is between 20 and 40. A 2011 study suggested that the vitamin D levels in your blood should be between 40 and 60. Today, most of the articles I read agree that that our vitamin D levels should be above 40. My vitamin D level is naturally nine which is why my neurologist is insistent that I take a vitamin D supplement every day.
Many call vitamin D the sunshine vitamin because it is absorbed into the body through natural sunlight. It also occurs naturally in some foods like oily fish and can be fortified into dairy, grain, or orange juice. Exposure to natural light and a proper diet, however, cannot ensure that we will have a proper level of vitamin D in our systems naturally.
Many of us, like myself, suffer from vitamin D deficiency. The MS and vitamin D deficiency correlation have been heavily studied. There are studies that suggest that genetic factors, like vitamin D deficiency, are a risk factor to developing MS. Currently, there are also research studies underway to determine what role vitamin D plays in MS and how it influences diagnosis, disease activity and other MS risk factors.
With vitamin D proving to be an important piece of the MS puzzle, how can you ensure that you are getting the right amount of vitamin D, even in the summer when the sunlight is plentiful?
  1. Get a blood test – If your doctor hasn’t ordered one already, get a blood test to determine your vitamin D level. Your doctor will then tell you your current vitamin D level and how much you need to supplement.
  2. UVB Exposure – Depending on where you live, determines your exposure to UVB rays. The further away from the equator, the less UVB rays that you experience consistently. The northern U.S. and Canada have a very short window of exposure during the summer and have periods during the winter with short days where there is hardly any exposure at all. Even during the summer, you are not going to take in enough vitamin D naturally so it is better to keep supplementing to ensure that your levels don’t dip.
  3. Sunscreen –There has been no study that suggests that sunscreen or other UV protection limit vitamin D absorption, but if you are blocking your skin from the sunshine with either a cream or protective UV clothing, then some argue that you are not getting the full exposure to vitamin D that you would have without those preventative measures. However, even committed proponents of unprotected sun exposure recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen and back, two to three times a week, followed by good sun protection.
  4. Genetic factors – Age, weight and skin color may play a role in your ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun. Studies show that as you age the body does not do as good a job at processing vitamin D naturally because of having less of the substance in the skin that converts the UVB rays from sunshine to vitamin D. Studies also show that obesity is linked to low vitamin D levels, as is darker skin. The melanin in your skin competes with the vitamin D.
  5. Environmental factors – Poor air quality, pollution, and carbon emissions can influence the quality of the UVB rays. Vitamin D could be absorbed by the pollution in the air weakening the quality that gets down to us.
Environmental and genetic factors can influence how much vitamin D you take in naturally, even in summer. Where you live in relation to the equator can also have an effect on how much year-round vitamin D exposure you get. The best indicator of whether you need to start a vitamin D regimen is to talk to your doctor and get a blood test. Because even in the summer, people living with MS should actively manage their vitamin D levels.