Q: I heard about a special 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 we don’t recommend it. Made by Sperti, the 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.
Michael Hollick, M.D., Ph.D., of 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, like those that occur in inflammatory bowel disease and cystic fibrosis.
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 you can simply take a vitamin D supplement, which is safer than UV exposure—and cheaper (at least in the short term) than spending $425 on this lamp. The new recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 IU a day up to age 70, and 800 IU for older people. Many experts, however, recommend more. Even for people who have problems absorbing vitamin D orally, there are better ways to get this nutrient, including very high oral doses or vitamin D injections, according to Steve Jacobsohn, M.D., a clinical professor of gastroenterology at UC San Francisco and a member of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter Editorial Board.
Originally published April 2011. Updated February 2014.