In The News: Fair-Skinned People May Require Vitamin D Supplements

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It’s no secret that pale-skinned people (like myself) often have a hard time achieving that “sun-kissed” look, even after spending many afternoons basking in the sun by the pool. However, a new study may bear more bad news–research is now suggesting that these individuals may have a hard time soaking in adequate amounts of vitamin D.

The study, which was performed by researchers at the Cancer Research UK Centre at the University of Leeds, found that people with fair skin often have low levels of vitamin D. Many people who live in sunny states can spend 10 to 15 minutes outdoors a few times a week and produce enough of the vitamin. However, fair-skinned people who burn easily may not be able to make enough vitamin D if they rely solely on sunlight, and vitamin D supplements may be necessary.

Those with especially white skin may need to work harder to get enough vitamin D.
Photo by paulcalypse/Courtesy

Vitamin D is a big contributor in maintaining strong, healthy bones and warding off osteoporosis. While calcium is often thought of as the bone builder, without vitamin D, your body cannot absorb calcium at all. Current research is even suggesting that vitamin D can lower the risk of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers as well.

So just how much vitamin D do we need? The current recommendation is 200 IU (international units) for individuals up to age 50. For 51- to 70-year-olds, 400 IU is advised, and for those older than 70, 600 IU is recommended.

Unfortunately, very few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Cod liver oil contains the most vitamin D (1,360 IU). However, if cod liver oil isn’t your cup of tea, fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna fish can help add adequate amounts of vitamin D to your diet. Other foods, such as beef liver, cheese and egg yolks, offer minimal amounts of the vitamin. Foods fortified with vitamin D provide most of the vitamin D in America’s diet. Most of the milks on store shelves are fortified with vitamin D, as are many breakfast cereals, brands of orange juice, margarine and orange juice.

Pale-skinned individuals aren’t the only group at risk for vitamin D. People of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, individuals who sport full-body coverings, the elderly, young kids, breastfeeding women and anyone who avoids the sun intentionally have all traditionally been thought to be at risk for deficiency. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, about 50 percent of people in the United States have less than adequate levels of vitamin D. If you suspect you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, contact your doctor to discuss adding certain foods or supplements to your diet.

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