Here comes the sun do, do, do….

Remember this old Beatles song? Sunshine is certainly something to sing about. Did you know that 20 minutes a day of sun exposure can dramatically improve your health?  

Forms of Vitamin D

Two major forms of Vitamin D that are important to humans which are Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, and Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. Vitamin D2 is made naturally by plants. Vitamin D3 occurs when skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays causing cholesterol to synthesize or change to Vitamin D3. Both forms of Vitamin D are converted to 25-hydroxyvitamin D by the liver and sent to the kidneys where it is changed to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, or calcitriol. This is the active or usable form of Vitamin D.

Benefits of Sunshine

  • Prozac in the Sky. When we are outside, the light hits the back of our eyes called the retina which causes the brain to increase serotonin levels. This is the ‘feel good hormone’ which lowers stress and depression, blood pressure and weight just to name a few things.
  • Improves sleep. Serotonin can make melatonin. This is the ‘rest and relax’ hormone and is crucial to sleeping well. A good night of rest is essential to overall health.
  •  Bone Health. We need adequate amounts of Vitamin D to help the gut absorb calcium and phosphorus which are two minerals essential for strong bones.
  • Cancer Risk May Be Lower. Research has found that death rates from certain cancers is lower among those living in southern latitudes, where levels of sunlight exposure is higher.  Cancer risk has not been found lower in those taking Vitamin D supplements according to the VITAL clinical trial.
  • Strengthens your immune system. A healthy immune system can fight off illness and infection. Your risk of getting flu and COVID will be lower.
  • Longevity. A study that followed 30,000 Swedish women found that those that spend more time in the sun lived up to two years longer that those with less sun exposure.

When Do I Need to Get My Sunshine?

Midday is the best time to get sunshine. The sun is at its highest point and the UVB rays are the most intense.  This means, you need less time in the sun to get the most benefit. People living further from the equator, receive less direct UVB rays. So, you may need to:

  • Spend more time in the sunshine
  • Exposure more skin while in the sunshine
  • Eat more Vitamin D containing foods such as cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms, and sardines. Foods ‘fortified’ with Vitamin D such as milk and cereal are not a good way to get your sunshine!
  • Take Vitamin D supplements

How Do I Know If I Am Getting Enough Sunshine?

Have your healthcare provider do a blood test for 25-hydroxyvitamin D to determine if you have enough Vitamin D to stay healthy. Normal blood levels are 40-100 ng/dl but this varies by various medical associations.

Vitamin D3 supplements are measures in International Units or IU.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 400-800 IU daily. This is a very low amount and is only meant to be enough to prevent disease. I recommend 2000 IU daily for those living in Tennessee and much more if you are deficient.

Relax and soak up those rays!

Dr. Julie Wood is a Nurse Practitioner and has been serving the Middle Tennessee area for more than 30 years, specializing in adults with obesity, prediabetes and diabetes. Office is located at 401 First Avenue, Mt. Pleasant, TN and statewide with telehealth. Dr. Wood can be reached at 931-325-5560,,  

Articles are meant to be informative and should never replace the advice of your health care provider.