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The Benefits of Vitamin D

We all know that getting too much sun can be harmful to your health. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a major risk factor for most skin cancers.

But if you’re an older adult, sunlight – in the right amount – may provide health benefits too, a recent study says.

Sunlight causes your body to produce vitamin D. Data is emerging that suggests sunlight — with its ability to produce vitamin D — may reduce the risk of hip fractures, high blood pressure, and stroke or heart attack for older adults, the study says.

The researchers, who reviewed information gathered from a variety of sources, call for more data to weigh the potential benefits of moderate UV radiation against potential harm specifically for older adults.

That’s because the familiar recommendations to avoid the sun are based on data from the entire population – children through older adults. The data may not take into account important distinctions for older adults, the researchers say.

For example, older adults get far less sunlight than others because they tend to stay indoors. In addition, because of changes associated with aging, their skin is less efficient at producing vitamin D from sun exposure.

If you are an older adult, you need vitamin D. Vitamin D bolsters your skeletal health and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, hip fractures, and vascular events such as stroke or heart attack, the study says. So, despite the cancer risk, older adults still may benefit from some sunlight, the researchers say.

Sunlight has other hidden benefits. With its power to produce vitamin D, it protects against depression, insomnia and an overactive immune system, geriatrician Ronan Factora, MD, says.

“There are some links between sunlight exposure and improved muscle function, bone and cardiovascular health, improved mood — even improved cognitive function,” Dr. Factora says.

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