Sunlight is as important to your body as Vitamin C or Calcium. “Anybody who tells you you’re supposed to wear sunscreen all day every day hasn’t looked at the data,” says Marianne Berwick, Ph.D., a researcher and epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Research shows that sun exposure is necessary for good health. It boosts your mood, strengthens your bones, and may lower your risk for certain cancers, among other benefits.
The sun helps your body make Vitamin D, and you can thank this nutrient for most of the sun’s health benefits. You can get Vitamin D from dietary sources or by taking supplements, but many experts believe the sun is a better source of D because your body may not absorb an adequate amount of this nutrient from foods or supplements.
Vitamin D Health Benefits…
- Vitamin D helps you maintain calcium blood levels by increasing the amount of calcium you absorb from food and reducing the amount you lose each day. In this way, sunlight is critical in helping you maintain strong bones and teeth. Sufficient amounts of calcium also allow your arteries to maintain normal blood pressure levels.
- Vitamin D prevents disease. It helps your body to produce antimicrobial peptides that destroy viruses and bacteria. Vitamin D also increases the level of white blood cells in our blood. This is why tuberculosis was sometimes cured in the early 20th century just by exposing the patients to sunlight.
- Adequate levels of Vitamin D may help prevent certain types of cancer. Research shows the blood circulates it directly from the skin to the breasts, colon, and prostate. Researchers believe Vitamin D inhibits cancer cell growth in these organs.
Sunlight and SAD…
- When days are shorter in the fall and winter, about 1 out of 4 people experience a mild form of depression called winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People suffering from SAD undergo extreme changes in mood that fluctuate with the seasons as if they were split between a “summer person” and a “winter person”.
- Sufferers have been known to increase their sleep by as many as four hours a night and gain more than twenty pounds as they attempt to “hibernate” the winter away. Other SAD symptoms include poor concentration, irritability, depression, loss of energy, carbohydrate cravings, impaired functioning, and decreased sex drive.
- Dozens of studies show that sun exposure can relieve SAD. A study in the August 2001 issue of Biological Psychiatry found that while participants who got artificial light therapy found relief from SAD, subjects had better results when they got sunshine during the week as well.
- Illnesses with similar symptoms to SAD, including underactive thyroid, chronic viral infection, and chronic fatigue syndrome, must be ruled out by a physician. There are no laboratory tests for SAD; diagnosis must be clinical and based on a patient’s history and standards developed by the American Psychiatric Association. A physician can also offer multiple treatment options.
- A little sunlight is good, but more than that isn’t better. Sunburn is still harmful, and skin cancer is a serious risk. Overexposure to sunlight can lead to such eye-related disorders as cataracts and macular degeneration. Eye protection is recommended.
- Complexion makes a difference in how much sun exposure is optimal. Light-toned skin generally makes enough Vitamin D in 20 minutes if 40% of the skin is exposed; very dark skin could take two hours.
- Eating or supplementing with plenty of antioxidants may help prevent sunburn.
- If you have to supplement Vitamin D, note that there is more than one form of Vitamin D. The best form is D3, cholecalciferol. The synthetic vitamin is D2, ergocalciferol. Your body can convert D2 into a usable form, but it takes 500 times longer than it takes to use D3.
- Don’t overdose on Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so it can build up in the tissues. Signs of an overdose are vomiting, constipation, weight loss, kidney failure, and calcification of the arteries. It’s impossible to overdose on Vitamin D from sunlight, so that is a much safer source.
1. Sunshine Days by Susan M Lark, M.D.
2. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) www.webmd.com
3. Guilt-free Sunbathing http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NAH/is_4_32/ai_85174712/pg_3/?tag=content;col1
4. Vitamin D and Sunlight http://vitamins-minerals.suite101.com/article.cfm/vitamin_d_and_sunlight
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