Here Comes The Sun
With the passing of March 21st, it is official – Spring is here! The temperatures are slowly going to start to rise, the flowers will begin to bloom, and we are finally coming out of months of darkness. The days are longer, and if you catch yourself in a space that is protected from the wind, you may have already begun to feel the Sun’s warmth. Did you know that exposure to natural sunlight has more benefits than thawing us out in the summer? In the spirit of spring, this week we want to shed a little light on the benefits, and risks, of sun exposure.
Vitamin D has quickly become one of the best known benefits of the Sun – and rightly so! Getting 30 minutes of natural sunlight yields 50,000 IU’s of vitamin D a day in light skin toned individuals, 20,000 – 30,000 IU’s in tanned skin individuals, and 8,000 – 10,000 IU in dark skin toned individuals. The vitamin D we consume in supplement form most commonly comes in doses of 2,000 to 10,000 IU’s a day.
When we produce vitamin D through the photosynthetic process (using the sun to synthesize the vitamin), it produces Vitamin
D3. Vitamin D3 then circulates the blood and goes through a number of transformations in places like the liver and kidneys. What is really interesting is that when it is transformed in the kidneys, it becomes 1,25(OH)D, which is actually a hormone! Hormones, as we all know, are incredibly powerful chemicals in the human body that control mood, metabolism, and our reproductive cycles! In the case of 1,25(OH)D, this form of vitamin D is in charge of the calcium and phosphorus concentrations in the blood and can make or break the bones in the body! In fact, children who do not produce or consume enough vitamin D can develop a disease known as rickets, which causes malformation in the bones and stunts growth. As we get older is it important for us to have sufficient levels of vitamin D circulating in our systems to prevent the onset of conditions like osteoporosis.
Beyond the bones, there are also vitamin D receptors in the brain, as it plays a role in the production of certain neurotransmitters and hormones. This is why vitamin D has been shown to boost the mood of individuals, and likely why we are all just a little bit less irritable when summertime is here.
Furthermore, according to a paper published in the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, they have found multiple research studies that suggest vitamin D deficiency increases our predisposition to 17 types of cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease and several other conditions. Beyond the production of vitamin D, which is produced via the UVB radiation, UVA radiation helps to mobilize the nitric oxide in the body, which can help to open up the blood vessels and improve circulation in the body, which is a warm welcome to individuals with cardiovascular conditions.
Lastly, some new research is suggesting that not getting enough sunlight could be related to the development of multiple sclerosis, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimers and dementia. You can find a more detailed description of how UVB radiation has been linked to these condition in this review, published in the Journal of Dermatoendocinology.
All of those benefits sound great, but what about all of the information we have on how sunlight and UV radiation is linked to skin cancers like melanoma? Although the sun brings energy and many health benefits to us, the ultraviolet radiation penetrates the skin and has the ability to alter our cells. This is where our common theme of moderation, and knowing your personal limitations, can really be useful. UV radiation is often cited as a cause of melanoma, but in some of the literature linked before, it was also linked as a something that need to prevent melanoma. The devil is really in the details with this one. Non-burning UV radiation is linked to preventing cancers like melanoma, while sunburns are known to double your risk of developing melanoma. And yes, a tan is actually a sign that your skin has begun to burn, so just be careful with how quickly you get your tan on this summer.
Melanoma is a cancer that is heavily tied to genetic predisposition, so if this is a form of cancer that runs in the family, extra caution is advised when going out in the sun.
Our ancestors lived under the sun for thousands of years and therefore evolved with it. We should respect this fact and do our best to feed our bodies the sunshine they need to function optimally. We should also take advantage of the advancements in modern science and respect the fact that getting a sunburn is what we need to protect ourselves from. This means striking a balance between getting enough sunscreen-free sunlight, and knowing when it is time lather on some sunscreen.