It seems obvious that pale-skinned people tend to be lacking in vitamin D. Speaking as someone whose skin burns quickly in the sun, I stay out of the sun whenever I can. And when I’m outside for any length of time, I do everything I can to protect myself from the sun’s punishing rays.
For your body to produce vitamin D, you need to expose your bare skin to sunlight for a certain amount of time each day. Because sunscreen prevents ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from penetrating the skin, wearing sunscreen can interfere with your body’s vitamin D production. This is why it wasn’t a surprise to me when my doctor told me a few years back that my blood test showed extremely low levels of the nutrient.
But it turns out that people with skin that burns easily aren’t the only ones who need to worry about vitamin D deficiency. It’s true that dark-skinned people are able to withstand longer periods in the sun due to a higher concentration of melanin in the skin. But that same melanin that gives them some protection from the sun’s damaging rays also makes it more difficult for their bodies to produce vitamin D.
For all of us, if our vitamin D levels dip too low, it can hurt our health. And researchers are now saying vitamin D deficiency may be a culprit in a health epidemic that disproportionately affects African Americans…
Vitamin D could help lower African American heart disease levels
A study that connects skin pigmentation, vitamin D and cardiovascular health indicators suggests vitamin D deficiency could be contributing to the high rate of heart disease among African Americans. Researchers observe that more darkly pigmented individuals may be more at risk of inadequate vitamin D levels, particularly if they live in areas of low sun exposure or high seasonality of sun exposure.
“These findings may help to explain some of the differences that we see in the risk for developing blood vessel dysfunction, hypertension and overt cardiovascular disease between ethnic groups in the United States,” says Dr. S. Tony Wolf, a postdoctoral fellow at Pennsylvania State University and the study’s lead author. “Although there are many factors that contribute to the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, vitamin D supplementation may provide a simple and cost-effective strategy to reduce those disparities.”
Eighteen healthy adults of varying skin tones participated in the study. The researchers measured their levels of skin pigmentation and vitamin D, as well as the amount of nitric oxide activity in the small blood vessels beneath their skin.
Nitric oxide is crucial for proper blood vessel function, and reduced availability of the nutrient is believed to make an individual more susceptible to developing high blood pressure or heart disease. Previous research indicates vitamin D helps to promote nitric oxide availability.
Results show participants with darker skin had lower levels of vitamin D and reduced availability of nitric oxide. The researchers also found that low vitamin D levels were related to a reduction in blood vessel function moderated by nitric oxide.
The results bolster those of a separate study by the same research group, which found that supplementing healthy young African American adults with vitamin D improved their vitamin D levels and nitric oxide-mediated blood vessel function.
“Vitamin D supplementation is a simple and safe strategy to ensure vitamin D sufficiency,” Wolf says. “Our findings suggest that promoting adequate vitamin D status in young, otherwise healthy adults may improve nitric oxide availability and blood vessel function, and thereby serve as a prophylactic to reduce risk of future development of hypertension or cardiovascular disease.”
How best to stock up on the “sunshine” vitamin
The researchers note that your need for vitamin D supplementation can depend on several factors, including where you live, how much time you spend in the sun and your age and skin pigmentation. For instance, if you’re over the age of 70, you need would likely require a higher level of vitamin D daily, compared with younger adults.
In my case, when I was diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, I was living in an area that got low levels of sunlight during much of the year. So even if I wanted to try to get more vitamin D from the sun, there weren’t many opportunities. Thus, my doctor prescribed a vitamin D supplement, which restored my levels to normal pretty quickly.
As well, some doctors direct their patients to OTC supplements that are available in dosages ranging from 400 IU, 800 IU, 1000 IU, and upwards to 2000 IU, 5000 IU and 10,000 IU.
When choosing a vitamin D supplement, make sure it’s vitamin D3, which is almost twice as effective as vitamin D2 at raising vitamin D levels. This is likely because vitamin D3 is the form of vitamin D that’s already stored in the body. And make sure you take your vitamin D3 supplement with a healthy fat like avocado since vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
Vitamin D 101 — A Detailed Beginner’s Guide — Healthline
Do You Need a Vitamin D Supplement? Everything to Know — Everyday Health