The Sunshine Vitamin

by Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

June 10, 2016


  • I live in a country with hot, tropical climate so I can’t possibly be Vitamin D deficient
  • Sun-tanning beds are an alternative way to get the skin to produce Vitamin D
  • One can sun bathe at any time of the day and produce Vitamin D
  • I wear sunscreen to protect myself from sunburn but I can still get my Vitamin D fix if I’m outdoors
  • I can get my Vitamin D through diet and the right nutrition
  • We all require the same amount of Vitamin D in our bodies


  • The statistics are staggering at just how prevalent Vitamin D deficiency really is. Think back to the last time you spent 15-20 minutes, regularly, outdoors in the UAE? The curse of urban existence (and air-conditioning) and white-collared jobs. Note that one cannot generate Vitamin D whilst sat at a desk behind a large glass window because the pane blocks the UVB rays necessary for production.
  • A sun-tanning bed (quite the rage for reasons simply baffling to me) does NOT facilitate Vitamin D production because the beds’ bulbs emit UVA rays which are a known carcinogen and can increase risk of skin Melanoma by 2-5%!
  • Not really! The sun’s rays have to be direct for UVB to penetrate through the Earth’s ozone layer and so chances are that if you’re out early morning or late evening you will not be getting the “good rays” to make your Vitamin D. One should aim to get 15-20 minutes of sunbathing into one’s routine at least 2-4 times a week from between 11am to 2pm.
  • Ditch the sunscreen please when trying to cultivate Vitamind D. Even weak sunscreens (SPF-8) block the body's ability to generate vitamin D by 95%. Your body, once outdoors will absorb UVB as per its requirement and no more. Sunlight is literally a free medicine and it explains why more pharmaceutical companies don’t promote it; you can’t sell it unlike sunscreen. If you plan to be out in the sun for longer than 30 minutes then sunscreen is necessary to avoid getting burnt
  • Be aware that it’s impossible to have your Vitamin D needs met by food alone because although fortified milk and orange juice do contain Vitamin D, you would have to drink at least 10 glasses of each daily. Personally I get mine in the form of a tablet supplement. Know that for Vitamin D to be absorbed in our bodies we also require a steady intake of Calcium so ensure your diet is rich in Calcium-esque foods too.
  • Our Vitamin D needs vary with age, body weight, percent of body fat, latitude at which one resides in, skin coloration, season of the year, use of sun block, individual reactions to sun exposure, and our overall health. As a general rule, older people need more Vitamin D than younger people, large people need more that small people, dark-skinned people need more than fair skinned people and ‘sun-phobes’ need more than sun worshipers.


  • Whilst there aren’t any placebo-based, randomized controlled clinical trials linking Vitamin D deficiency with any other disease other than Osteoporosis and Rickets, the fact that our immune cells have receptors for Vitamin D indicates that the substance has a much larger spectrum of functions. This is backed by the Japanese study PloSONE (14th June 2010) that found Vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of contracting influenza A by over 40%. Currently the thought amongst scientists and physicians alike is that Vitamin D prevents up to 18 kinds of cancers (prostate, breast, ovarian and colon to name a few), lowers risks of mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia, promotes better health in Diabetics and insulin resistant patients and has a role in Psoriasis prevention. 


  •  Be careful of going overboard with dietary Vitamin D intake. In the sun our bodies self-regulate the amount of Vitamin D we produce but consuming too much Vitamin D orally can easily be overdone and this can be dangerous and cause toxicity. Monitor Vitamin D levels through a simple blood test with your physician.
  • Avoid sunbathing without protecting delicate areas of the body where the skin is thin ESPECIALLY the face. Wear large hats and sunglasses and stay in the sun only till a light pink hue appears on the skin of arms, legs and chest. 

My Take

Lounging lazily on my balcony last Friday afternoon, soaking up the finest of this city’s rays, I couldn’t quite get the nagging voice of my father out of my head ; “baby wear sunscreen or you’ll get skin cancer”. That’s the thing with most Asian parents – extremes! Before the tan, peeling skin and wrinkles comes Melanoma. But I stubbornly continues to sun bathe rationalizing that it would be a mere 30 minutes before it became too hot to go on and that if the sun’s rays were indeed “all evil” then it would have stifled evolution eons ago.


Early man walked to the tune of the sun! We lived outdoors, retiring into caves only post sunset. It really negates the argument that the sun is a lethal enemy. True you could argue that prior to the benefits of modern living where we receive excellent healthcare and live in sanitary conditions (at least YOU reading this do!), the lifespan of Homo Sapien was far shorter (<50years) and thus, skin cancers didn’t have ‘time’ to materialize BUT there’s no denying that the sun plays a crucial role in our lives apart from giving us a routine.


Much as plants harness the sun’s rays through photosynthesis, our bodies use the sun’s Ultra-Violet B (UVB) rays to help the skin produce Vitamin D.  Not quite the newsflash but, did you know that Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin by itself? It behaves more like a hormone. It is made in the skin, gets into your bloodstream and then goes into the liver and the kidney where it becomes activated as a key steroid hormone called Calcitriol. It then goes to the intestines, bones and other tissues, effecting metabolic pathways and the expression of myriad genes.


Balance your Vitamin D levels between sun exposure and Eating lots of vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, oranges goji berries and pomegranates and supplementing with green powdered mixes and fish oils. Finally, we have to round off by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and that means avoiding excess alcohol, not smoking, keeping your weight in check and exercising regularly. Routine workouts of cardio and weight-bearing exercises will help maintain muscle and bone strength. Even better, go torch these calories outdoors and stock up on that Sunshine Vitamin ;-) 

Dr. Daamini Shrivastav


Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.
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