Soak Up the Sun? Why You Might Need More Than Just Vitamin D!

You probably know that your skin needs sunlight to produce vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones and preventing a range of diseases. However, there’s a flipside to this sunshine dependency: excess sun exposure can deplete your body’s levels of folate, a crucial B vitamin. This is particularly concerning for pregnant women, as low folate levels are linked to miscarriage and neural tube defects such as spina bifida in unborn babies. So, if you’re out in the sun a lot, especially if you’re an expecting mother, you might want to consider stepping up your intake of folate.

The Importance of Folate

If you haven’t heard of folate, you’re not alone. However, this essential B vitamin plays a crucial role in a variety of bodily processes. Also known as folic acid, folate is involved in DNA synthesis, cell division, and the production of red blood cells. It also supports healthy brain function and helps maintain a balanced mood.

Due to its involvement in cellular division and growth, folate is especially important for pregnant women. Health professionals strongly recommend women to take a folic acid supplement prior to and during pregnancy. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends pregnant women or those planning a pregnancy take 500 micrograms a day.

But what happens if your folate levels aren’t up to par?

The Sun-Folate Connection

An Australian study shows that sun exposure is linked to lower folate levels in your body, particularly in pregnant women. The more time you spend in the sun, the more your folate levels decrease, which can have serious consequences for your unborn baby’s health.

Researchers analyzed the folate levels of 45 women aged 18 to 47 in Australia. They found that sun exposure can reduce your blood folate levels by up to 20 percent. This means that if you’re out in the sun a lot, you might not be getting enough folate, regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not.

However, pregnant women or those trying to conceive are most at risk due to their increased need for folate. Pregnant women with low folate levels are more likely to give birth to babies with spina bifida or other neural tube defects. Additionally, low folate levels can increase the risk of miscarriage, further highlighting the importance of keeping your folate levels up.

Boosting Your Folate Intake

If you’re concerned about the impact of sunlight on your folate levels, there are several steps you can take. First, make sure you get enough folate from your diet. Foods rich in folate include:

  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons
  • Beans and legumes, like lentils and chickpeas
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Fortified foods like breakfast cereals and bread

In addition to eating folate-rich foods, you can also take a folic acid supplement. The NHMRC recommends taking 500 micrograms per day if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive. If you’re a woman of childbearing age, it’s a good idea to take folic acid every day, even if you’re not planning to become pregnant. This is because nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so ensuring your folate levels are always adequate is a good insurance policy for your baby’s health.

Beyond diet and supplementation, you can take other measures to protect your folate levels. Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and covering up with lightweight clothing can help shield your skin from the sun’s rays and minimize its impact on your folate levels.


Being out in the sun is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you need sunlight to make vitamin D. On the other hand, excess sun exposure can reduce your folate levels, putting your unborn baby at risk. The good news is that by eating folate-rich foods, taking a folic acid supplement, and protecting your skin from the sun, you can protect your baby’s health and enjoy the sunshine. Just be sure to consult your healthcare provider before making any major changes to your diet or supplement routine.