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Soak Up the Sun . . . and Some Vitamin D!


What the human body is capable of doing is pretty incredible. It can turn food into energy. It can turn water into sweat. It can turn new experiences into memories. And, how about this for cool? It can turn sunlight into a vitamin required for human survival.

It’s true. While most of the different vitamins that kids need to grow and thrive enter the body by eating food, vitamin D is a different story. The body manufactures its own vitamin D, but it needs one very important ingredient: the sun. The sun gives off rays, which we perceive as daylight. It also gives off energy called ultraviolet rays. These are invisible waves, but reach the Earth, even from as far away as the sun. When the ultraviolet rays touch bare skin, a process begins and the body creates its own vitamin D.

Why you might not be getting enough vitamin D

Since the process is automatic and occurs when sunlight hits the skin, having enough vitamin D seems easy. This is not the case though, as scientists found recently that many kids may not have enough vitamin D (Academy of American Pediatrics, Oct 17, 2012). Even though only a few minutes of exposure to sunshine is needed for the body to manufacture the right levels of vitamin D, kids spend less time outside than in the past.

Many parents insist that children wear sunblock while outside to protect them from harmful effects of ultraviolet rays like sunburn and skin damage. Protecting skin from sun damage is very important, but like its name suggests, sunblock also blocks ultraviolet rays and stops the body from making its own vitamin D.

People who live in cold, Northern climates with hard winters are at risk for lower levels of vitamin D because they may go out during the day less often because of the cold.

Why we need vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency—not having enough—is a problem because it has many important jobs in the body. Especially important for kids is the role vitamin D plays in bone growth. vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from foods like leafy greens and dairy products. Severe deficiency can lead to rickets, a condition where weakened leg bones can cause pain and difficulty when running and walking.

How to get more vitamin D

Not many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. Salmon and egg yolks are two natural sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements in the form of pills are prescribed by doctors for people who need more vitamin D.

At your next physical, ask your doctor about vitamin D. If you are curious, ask your parents and doctor for a blood test to check your levels.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends going outside for 10 to 15 minutes a day without sunscreen to catch some rays (and with them, vitamin D). Check with your doctor that this is the right amount for you.

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