Are sunbeds good winter sources of vitamin D?

Sunbeds expose the body to vitamin D-creating ultraviolet rays similar to the sun, but is sunbedding in winter for health a bizarre idea?


 

For those living in wintry areas with limited natural sunlight, vitamin D deficiencies can lead to fatigue, weakened immune systems, and depression. That is one reason why Russia's notorious Butyrka prison announced on November 9 that it will soon install sunbeds to improve the health of its inmates. In addition to helping the body generate vitamin D, sunbeds are also known to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (or seasonal depression), psoriasis, and eczema. 

Meanwhile European and US medical officials take a different stance on sunbeds, warning the public that they cause skin cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, put UV-emitting sunbeds on its list of dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation, alongside smoking and chimney sweeping.

Going against the trend is Dr. Michael F. Holick, director of both the general clinical research unit and the bone health care clinic at Boston University Medical Center in the US. In a 2008 edition of Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, Holick published a study suggesting that when used sparingly, sunbeds are a good alternative for your daily dose of vitamin D (about 4,000 I.U. according to Holick, but this number is widely disputed) when the sun is not an option. While he doesn't advocate tanning, he said in an interview with news website MSN that for the sole purposes of generating vitamin D, people can meet their daily requirement in just a few minutes a day in a sunbed.

Other ways to get vitamin D on dark, winter days? The body does store vitamin D so stocking up in summer months can help see you through winter's dim days. Vitamin D doesn't occur naturally in many foods, but mackerel, sardines, and fish liver oil are rich sources. Vitamin-fortified cereals and dairy products are good options, as are dietary supplements of vitamin D. Also, three ounces of canned pink salmon contains about 600 I.U. of vitamin D.

However, there is some debate over how your body processes vitamin D from foods. "When you ingest vitamin D, only about 60 percent of it sticks to vitamin D-binding protein, but when you make vitamin D in your skin, 100 percent binds to the protein," said Holick in the MSN interview.

To read more about Holick: http://health.msn.com/health-topics/skin-and-hair/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100254988

 

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