Monday, November 19, 2012

Can using a tanning bed improve your vitamin D status?

Using a tanning bed can improve your vitamin D status. A case study published in pubmed documented the case of a woman whose vitamin D level was 7 ng/mL which is way below the healthy range of 30 to 100 ng/mL. Because she had Chrone’s disease and was unable absorb vitamin D through her digestive track she was treated in a tanning bed for 10 minutes, three times a week for 4 weeks. During this time her blood serum level rose from 7ng/mL to 32 ng/mL. This seemed like a scary amount of tanning bed use to me unless the person had very dark skin. Unfortunately the study did not say anything about the person’s skin type or the type of tanning bed used. The article left me wondering what would be the minimum amount of tanning bed use required for a person to maintain a healthy vitamin D status during the winter months.

A little over a month ago I had my vitamin D level tested. I was concerned that it might be low even though I spend a considerable amount of time outside, but usually in the late afternoon until sunset when the UVB rays that help our skin produce vitamin D don’t penetrate the atmosphere. My mid-October serum level came back low at 24ng/mL. In Seattle where I live, from October through March, UVB rays don’t penetrate the atmosphere in sufficient amounts to make vitamin D so I was entering the winter months already having a low vitamin D status.

Because our skin is designed to use UVB rays to produce vitamin D, I wanted to use a tanning bed instead of supplements to improve my vitamin D status instead of supplements which were recommended by my doctor. Also because skin uses cholesterol is used to make vitamin D it would seem to follow that it would lower my cholesterol. Furthermore, there is no danger of vitamin D toxicity when your body produces it one vitamin D like there is when taking to much supplements.
On the other hand, because UV rays (whether from the sun or tanning bed) damage the DNA in skin cells I wanted to figure out the least amount of tanning bed use required for me to maintain a healthy vitamin D status during the winter months. I decided to use a bed that produced 10% UVB rays for 2 minutes every other day (so an average of one minute per day). After one month of use there was no discernible tanning effect on my skin. Also my serum level rose to 26ng/mL. I was hoping it would have more of an effect, however, this did tell me that an average of 1 minute of tanning bed use per day would be sufficient to maintain a healthy vitamin D status had mine been in the healthy range (30 to 100 ng/mL) to start with.

Also of note are these factors:
  1. Using Health and Diet Tracker, I tracked the amount of vitamin D consumed in my diet during this time period and it was less than 25% of daily requirement.
  2. My skin type is III (light brown). Darker skinned people require more UVB rays to produce vitamin D than lighter skinned people.
  3. I am 54. Older people are not as efficient at producing vitamin D as younger people.
  4. My body mass index is 37 (obese). Some think that fat pulls vitamin D out of blood circulation.
My plan going forward is to increase tanning bed use to 4 minutes every other day. Make sure I get at least 75% of my daily vitamin D requirement by eating salmon, tuna, milk and yogurt. I also plan to make sure I get 125% of my daily requirements of vitamins C and E using natural food. This will limit the amount of damage from caused by free radicals which are produced by UVA rays. In a month I will have my vitamin D blood serum level tested again and go from there. Hopefully I will be in the healthy range. If not, even though I have an aversion to using medication and supplements I will take a vitamin D supplement.


My doctor did not want to retest after one month because he said that because vitamin D is absorbed by fat he thought there wouldn't be much change until after 3 months. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity though to see if my plan was working so I insisted on the retest. The test result was only 27ng/mL which was disappointing. My doctor was right.

During the tanning period I did notice two changes in my health. When I started tanning I had 5 to 7 splinter hemorrhages in my finger nails. They all disappeared after a couple of weeks although I have one right now. The other is that a annoying seborrhiec keratosis on my forehead has almost completely faded away.