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As more people head outdoors to enjoy the warm spring weather, they may be confused as to how much exposure to sunlight is a healthy amount for optimal health.
Studies have shown that too much sunlight may give a person skin cancer while too little may lead to a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause serious health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
However, there is an ongoing debate among health officials as to how much sunlight a person needs to maintain optimal health and avoid being deficient of the "sunshine vitamin," which has led to some confusion.
"Most Americans could use more vitamin D," Dr. Adit Ginde Higher, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, told U.S. News and World Report. "Higher doses of vitamin D supplementation than currently recommended, at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily, are likely needed to raise vitamin D levels for many people."
Ginde, along with her research team, examined the vitamin D levels of 18,883 people who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition study between 1988 and 1994, according to the article. They also looked at the data from 13,369 people who participated in the same study between 2001 and 2004.
"We found a marked increase in vitamin D deficiency over the past two decades," Ginde said to the news provider. "Over three out of every four Americans now have vitamin D levels below what we believe is necessary for optimal health. African-Americans and Hispanics are at particularly high risk nearly all have suboptimal levels."
Because of the increasing deficiency in vitamin D, especially in certain groups, some health officials have considered increasing the amount of the nutrient recommended through eating certain foods or by taking nutritional supplements.
Some organizations have rolled out targeted campaigns to raise awareness of the condition. One campaign in Miami is targeting the Hispanic community and references vitamin D deficiency as a "silent epidemic."
The Hispanic "got milk?" campaign is using the recent Daylight Savings time change to urge people to use the extra hour of sunlight to "catch some more rays."
Studies have shown the best resource for vitamin D is direct sunlight, which assists the body in producing the nutrient.
However, because some areas of the country may not have a lot of direct sunlight (or may have too much), some health experts like registered dietitian Su-Nui Escobar recommend people get it either from nutritional supplements or from a glass of milk.
"It's alarming to see so many people fail to get enough vitamin D, especially when milk is such an easy and convenient source of this essential nutrient," Escobar said. "Now more than ever we're learning about the health risks linked to vitamin D deficiency."
Research has shown people who have low levels of vitamin D in their bodies have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, periodontal disease and cognitive impairment.
In an effort to avoid these conditions, some people have gotten lab tests to determine how much vitamin D they have and whether or not they need more.
With vitamin D testing, a person may be able to calculate exactly how much of the nutrient they need to maintain optimal health. Recently a study found that a daily dose of a vitamin D supplement may reduce the chance of older people experiencing bone fractures.
The lab test can also reveal to a person if their vitamin D levels are high, which may be especially informative for a person who has high exposure to the sun.
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