How much time do you spend in the sun? Do you limit your exposure for rear of skin cancer? If you do, you may want to read on. Recent research has shown that spending some time soaking up the rays may provide some serious health benefits.

You've probably heard of vitamin D. It's in milk, along with calcium. But did you know there is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in America? More than 40% of Americans have low blood levels of vitamin D.

According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, there is a dramatic increase in vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. The study ran between 1988-1994 and showed that 45% of the 18,883 people examined had 30 nanograms per milliliter or more of Vitamin D. That amount is sufficient for overall health. But a decade later, of the 13,369 people examined, only 23% had at least that amount.

Adit Ginde, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, said in an interview published in Scientific America in March of 2009, "We were anticipating that there would be some decline in overall vitamin D levels, but the magnitude of the decline in a relatively short time was surprising."

Ginde goes on, "We're just starting to scratch the surface of what the health effects of vitamin D are. There's reason to pay attention here."

What are the health risks of a vitamin D deficiency? Being deficient increases a person's risk of fractures, muscle weakness and even cancer as they age.

An article in Science Daily not only states that adequate vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis, it can help reduce the risk of other diseases as well. Low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of certain cancers; specifically breast, colon, rectum, ovary, kidney, liver and uterus.

There is growing evidence that vitamin D can reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system, which may offer protection from Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

While studies have shown that higher levels of vitamin D help protect against colon, prostate, and breast cancer, a long-term study of 50,000 men by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health suggests vitamin D may reduce the risk of all cancers.

According to lead author, Ed Giavannucci, men who consumed higher levels of vitamin D reduced their overall cancer risk by at least 30%.

But what about the risk of skin cancer? There is debate among researchers over sun exposure. Because of the risk of skin cancer, public health officials advise people to avoid sun exposure. How does that weigh against a vitamin D deficiency?

Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University says, "We absolutely have a huge problem with vitamin D deficiency." She emphasizes getting more of both dietary vitamin D and sun exposure that is just long enough to trigger the body's vitamin D machinery. She goes on, "It's hard to be so polarized because a little sunlight goes a very long way I producing vitamin D...I don't think there's a villain here."

Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University School of Medicine feel the anti-skin cancer campaign has made the vitamin D deficiency worse because it's kept people out of the sun. He feels the sun is the best source for vitamin D.

How much time is enough? Dr. Bill Stillwell, a highly credentialed, and board certified orthopedic surgical specialist, recommends sunning yourself for about 20 to 30 minutes on each side. But keep in mind that sunscreen will block the vitamin D generating effects.

Author's Bio: 

Lynn Smith is a health and weight loss coach and co-founder of Health Coach Team. Health Coach Team offers individual and group coaching on health and weight loss, teleseminars, articles and resources to support women in losing weight and gaining health and energy. Lynn has co-authored "The YES Diet: A New System for Permanent Weight Loss," a no-hype approach to permanently reaching your weight-loss goals.
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