Q: I heard about a special new lamp that helps the body produce vitamin D. Is this a good way to increase my vitamin D level?
A: It's one way, though your health care provider may not recommend it unless you have a problem absorbing vitamin D orally due to a medical condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Made by Sperti, the new fluorescent sunlamp produces high-intensity ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays that trigger vitamin D production in the skin. Regular fluorescent lamps are not of high enough intensity to be useful for this purpose.
To minimize skin damage and the risk of skin cancer, the lamp has a timer that limits exposure to five minutes, and it's recommended that you rotate the parts of your body exposed to avoid burning and tanning. Other sunlamps don't necessarily produce the UV spectrum that optimizes vitamin D production.
Dr. Michael Hollick at Boston University, a noted vitamin D researcher, has reported that the Sperti lamp increases or maintains D levels in healthy people with fair skin as well as those with oral absorption problems.
Many people run low on vitamin D because of limited sun exposure in the winter (especially if they live in northern latitudes), and because few foods contain vitamin D. But unless you have an absorption problem, you can simply take an inexpensive vitamin D supplement, rather than purchase this expensive (about $425) lamp.
The new RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin D is 600 IU a day up to age 70, and 800 IU for older people. Many experts, however, recommend more, and the debate about how much D we need continues.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (April 2011)