Vitamin D & Sunscreen

Vitamin D and Sunscreen

Uncategorized Aug 02, 2016

Vitamin D is also called the sunshine vitamin.  It’s actually not a vitamin but a pro-hormone.  It’s called a vitamin because it’s something we need to get every day.  We get it from sunshine but many of us work in offices, live in Canada, lather ourselves with sunscreen and therefore are often deficient.


So why is Vitamin D so Important?

The sun has gotten a bad rap lately and is often deemed as evil.  Therefore, many people are covering themselves with toxic chemical laden sunscreens to prevent getting a sunburn.   But there are many dangers of not getting enough sun.  In fact observational studies show that a higher vitamin D status, higher dietary vitamin D intake, and greater sunlight exposure have been associated with a decreased incidence of colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer, and a lower incidence of total cancers.

Vitamin D has functions all throughout your body. It helps your gut absorb calcium and phosphorous which makes it very important for bone health.  It doesn’t build bone but helps your body absorb the nutrients needed to build bones.  It is also important for healthy adrenal glands and blood sugar control.  It is also involved in brain and nervous system development and functioning.  This is why some people feel their mood is better in the summer as they are spending time outdoors. 

 Vitamin D also supports healthy:

  •  immune system
  • mood
  • memory
  • blood pressure
  • digestive system – blood sugar balancing and digestive enzymes
  • skin
  • sleep – good sleep is tied to blood sugar balance, hormone balance, digestion and thyroid heath
  • carbohydrate and fat metabolism

 Vitamin D may also be useful for preventing and/or treating the following conditions:

  •  Back pain
  • Breath-holding spells
  • Burns
  • Cancer
  • Chilblains
  • Colds
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Critical illness
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Influenza
  • Myopathy
  • Osteomalacia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Paget’s disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Rickets
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • tuberculosis

  Why are we Vitamin D deficient?

  1. As I mentioned above, we either don’t go outside or we wear too much sunscreen. 
  2. Dark skin – synthesize less vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
  3. Poor liver function – the liver is involved in converting vitamin D into a usable form.  Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. If you aren’t absorbing fats well then you won’t be absorbing Vitamin D.
  4. Poor kidney function – one of the stages of activating Vitamin D into a usable form is in the kidneys.  Any kidney problems can create a Vitamin D deficiency.
  5. Food allergies- irritation of the gut of any kind can impair absorption.
  6. Northern climates - Canada qualifies for that!  In fact, you may not absorb any Vitamin D at all during the winter even if you love outdoor winter sports and did them all naked!
  7. Genetics – you may have the genetic markers that affect Vitamin D receptors and therefore require more Vitamin D for it to be effective.
  8. Showering and scrubbing with soap.  If you’re out in the sun and you come in, shower and scrub with soap right away, you may be scrubbing off that Vitamin D before it is absorbed.  It is recommended that you wait 48 hours before you scrub with soap.  Stick to scrubbing your armpits, groin area if possible.
  9. Some medications - statin drugs, anti-seizure, glucocorticoids, rifampin, St. John’s Wort and others.

How much do you need?

Health Canada has established recommendations for the intake of Vitamin D.

It is important to work with your practitioner to determine how much Vitamin D your body may need depending on your digestion, your health concerns, your skin tone, where you live and how much sun you get.  

 Where do you get it? 

The sun! 

 You should be aiming to get 20 minutes up to 2 hours of sun exposure to large portions of your skin 3-7 times a week during the summer.  It’s important to start slowly in the spring and work up to this exposure time so that you don’t get a sunburn.   This should ideally happen in bright midday sunlight.    

Those that have darker pigmented skin will require more time in the sun to increase Vitamin D levels.  So bare as much as you can and go for a walk over lunch.  Plus you get in some exercise as well…. Bonus!

Ideally, get out in the sun for long enough to get your vitamin D and then cover up with loose clothing and a hat.

 Cancer and Sun Exposure

Melanoma, the most dangerous cancer of the skin may not be related to sun exposure.   Recent studies suggest it can be caused by Vitamin D and omeg-3 deficiency.  Although there is an increased risk for those with a history of sunburns. 

Don’t risk getting a sunburn.  So if you are going to be out in the sun long enough that you may burn, ensure you cover up with loose clothing and a hat.  Sunscreen is carcinogenic so if you are going to use it look for a product that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Look for a non-toxic sunscreen on the Environmental Working Group website.


Liver has the highest amount of Vitamin D as that is where Vitamin D is stored in the body.  Grandma may have known what she was doing when she gave her kids cod liver oil.

Here are some other foods with Vitamin D (I would not recommend using cows milk for vitamin D as it is inflammatory affects blood sugars)


  • Vitamin D3: found exclusively in animal sources
  • Vitamin D2: found in plant sources in small amounts
  • Synthetic Vitamin D2: fortified products and some supplements

 Remember to supplement as little as possible but as much as is necessary.



If you are going to supplement with Vitamin D then the only way to determine the correct dose is to get your blood tested.   Alberta has new restrictions on ordering Vitamin D levels.  A physician can only order a vitamin D level for certain disease processes. This is unfortunate as Vitamin D deficiency is related to so many conditions.  But we all have the option to take more control of our own health.  Vitamin D testing is available for a fee through a naturopath or nutritionist.  If you have any of the conditions listed above and are looking to optimize your health visit come visit me, I would be honored to assist you with testing and ensure your Vitamin D is tailored to your needs.

 Resources & References

  • Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin by Zoltan Rona (Jan 1 2010)
  • “How Much Vitamin Do You Need
  • “Daily Sunlight Can Keep Cancer Away”
  • “Lack of Sunshine Causes One Million Deaths a Year”
  • Gaby, Alan R., MD. Nutritional Medicine. Alan R. Gaby, M.D., 01/2011. VitalBook file.

Shonda Holt BScN, RN, C.H.N Holistic Nutritionist




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