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Tanning, vitamin D status, and colds

Posted on: January 13, 2013   by  John Cannell, MD


To my knowledge, the Russians were the first to demonstrate that sunbeds reduced the incidence of respiratory infections. While I have not been able to find all the Russian studies, the several I did find were referenced in our two papers about influenza and vitamin D. I beg the readers pardon to brag a little bit. The first influenza paper our group published, Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D, is the most cited review paper in the history of the journal Epidemiology and Infection.

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5 Responses to Tanning, vitamin D status, and colds

  1. [email protected]

    Yes, sunbeds primarily put out UVA, which does not produce Vitamin D.

    You can buy UVB lamps, which are made to produce vitamin D, and provide little if any tanning.

    I purchased a UVB lamp which provides at least 1,000 IU per 5 minutes.

    Details and photos at http://is.gd/Dlamps

    Note1: The lamp may generate 5X as much because it has little UVA which destroys vitamin D)

    Note2: When UV light was originally used to create vitamin D, people happened to notice that the UV light also caused a tan. This caused the creation of the sunbed industry. The sunbed industry then changed the spectrum so as to maximize the tan. This change resulted in minimizing the vitamin D produced.

  2. kenmerrimanmd

    this is of interest since Dr Cannell recommends “low pressure” tanning beds for vit D production

    I believe the quote was ~ equal to sunlight at the equator at 5000 ft elevation at about midday

    so now I am once again a bit confused ( which seems to be my usual state lately)

  3. Brant Cebulla

    Ken, the topic can get confusing quickly.

    Both UVA and UVB will cause a tanning effect, though through different mechanisms which I won’t get into detail about. Basically, UVB will cause more of sunburn effect than UVA, as it’s a more intense, shorter wave. UVA will cause more of a tanning effect, as it’s less intense, a longer wave and penetrates the skin more deeply.

    UVB helps you produce vitamin D, UVA does not (for the most part).

    Some sunbed manufacturers produce high-intensity UVA beds to induce a tanning effect. These beds output up to ten times the amount of UVA the sun does. On the other hand, some sunbed manufacturers produce low-intensity UVB-UVA beds that mimic the sun. Your skin responds to these much like it does the sun: lots of vitamin D production, little tanning effect (but some) and if you exposed for too much, you would burn.

    Let me know if you have more questions. You may find this old blog of mine interesting: http://blog.vitamindcouncil.org/2012/04/27/how-do-we-measure-sun-exposure/

  4. Mike_Hinton

    This makes sense to me. I’ve only been on Vitamin D since August 2012. And only been above 60 ng/ml since September, but it took about 4 months (which means a couple weeks ago) for me to start physically feeling the benefits. I haven’t gotten sick yet, but I was sick rarely to begin with. I hope I’m sick even more rarely now, with baby on the way.

  5. Rebecca Oshiro

    Maybe vitamin D really doesn’t prevent colds, much like the previous JAMA article suggested. However, I would like to see more research on vitamin D preventing the flu. As stated previously, my experience with 4,000 IU/day has been that I still get colds 1-2 times per year, but I no longer get the flu. I’ll take that!

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