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Q&A: Tanning Beds to Boost Vitamin D and Serotonin?

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Q: You write a lot about how sunshine increases vitamin D and serotonin. Do you recommend using a tanning bed or booth to accomplish this?

A: Short answer: No. Longer answer: You shouldn’t be using ultraviolet tanning salons for anything. A World Health Organization position paper on tanning beds placed them at highest risk as a cause of skin cancer.

In recent years, the deadly skin cancer malignant melanoma has been on a dramatic rise, with 62,000 new cases diagnosed in the US in 2008 and 8,000 people dying every year as this malignancy spreads throughout the body. People at greatest risk are those under 30 who use tanning booths regularly (which makes me wonder why DePaul University keeps renewing the lease of the tanning salon located in one of the school’s dorms).

Yes, tanning beds will raise your vitamin D. Research out of Boston University did confirm this, but the real question is: at what price? If the price is melanoma, look for your vitamin D elsewhere (see below).

Regarding serotonin: when you clamber into any type of tanning chamber the clerk gives you plastic eye protectors to keep the radiation from entering your eyes. In order for sunshine to raise your serotonin, you need to see the sunlight. If your eyes are covered, as they are in a tanning booth, your serotonin level remains unchanged.

Regular readers know that both vitamin D and good levels of serotonin are necessary for optimal health and protection against stress. Here in the darker northern climes, we simply can’t get enough sun and most of us need to take supplemental D. If you’re uncertain whether or not to take D, ask your doctor to measure your level. Otherwise, take from 2000 to 4000 IU (international units) per day.

Boosting your serotonin is easy: exercise regularly, eat nutritious carbs throughout the day, and spend at least 30 minutes daily outside without sunglasses.

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