Your Wellness Program Should Involve Time in the SunVitamin D
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Have you ever considered what would happen if the sun disappeared?
Well for starters, “[w]ithout the sun's intense energy and heat, there would be no life on Earth (NASA).”
We would have no water, and plants would no longer be able to complete the process of photosynthesis and provide food for us and animals that depend on plant foods. And the animals who eat the animals who eat plants would no longer have that food source.
Earth would freeze over and pretty much become uninhabitable (maybe with the exception of a few species that live near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor).
The sun is actually a star!
It is the center and anchor of our solar system. If the sun were to disappear, all the planets in our solar system would no longer have the gravitational pull from its anchor (the sun) and would go flying off into space.
So as you can see, the sun’s importance to our existence is invaluable.
And just like you need nutrient-rich foods, oxygen, physical exercise, annual doctor visits and methods to control stress levels in order to be your happiest and healthiest self, you also need the sun to help keep you happy and healthy.
“It turns out that sunlight absorbed through our skin is necessary for our bodies to produce and use certain vitamins and minerals,” according to UCSB scientists.
You may already know that sunlight allows our bodies to naturally synthesize the vitamin D we need for strong bones that may help prevent us from developing osteoporosis. Vitamin D may also play a role in weight management, preventing cancer and treating diabetes and hypertension.
And the benefits we can reap from the sun go far beyond vitamin D.
- Sunlight may do a lot for you mentally.
Another benefit of getting some sun is its proven ability to lift our mood and increase our general feeling of well-being. Exposure to sunlight may increase the brain’s’ release of serotonin, a hormone associated with boosting mood and helping us feel calm and focused.
The opposite of this mood boosting effect of sunlight may happen when you don’t get enough sun, for example during the winter months. In this case, the lack of serotonin causes a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the appropriate acronym of SAD).
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), SAD “is a kind of depression that follows the seasons. The most common type of SAD is called winter depression. It usually begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by summer. A less common type of SAD, known as summer depression, begins in the late spring or early summer. SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight we get.”
The AAFP also reports that about 4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression. Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD, and it is four times more common in women than in men. SAD is also more common the farther north you go. For example, it's seven times more common in Washington state than in Florida.
You may have heard someone refer to another person’s personality as “bright and sunny.” Well, there’s a good chance this bright and sunny person is happy and getting enough vitamin D through sunlight and diet.
Sunlight may also help if you’re suffering from non-seasonal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and panic attacks.
- Sunlight may help lower your blood pressure.
Research shows that sunlight may help reduce blood pressure. Skin that is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays releases a compound, nitric oxide, which plays a role in lowering blood pressure as well as improving physical endurance.
In a study from the United Kingdom, researchers gave subjects a dose (equivalent of about 30 minutes of sun) of ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation in a lab and found that the subjects’ blood vessels dilated and their blood pressure lowered.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the sun also may help stimulate blood circulation.
- Sunlight may help treat certain skin conditions.
Sun exposure may help with skin conditions such as acne and more.
“UV radiation has been used to successfully treat a number of diseases, including rickets, psoriasis, eczema and jaundice. This therapeutic use cannot eliminate the negative side-effects of UV radiation but treatment takes place under medical supervision to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks,” reports the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Sunlight may help prevent cancer.
While much has been written about staying out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, it is not very well known that getting enough sun may also help prevent certain cancers, including colon, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate.
This may be due to the sun’s help with the body’s absorption of vitamin D.
“In studies of cancer cells and of tumors in mice, vitamin D has been found to have several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating cell death (apoptosis), and reducing tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis),” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
And surprisingly, it has been reported that safe sun exposure in moderation may actually help protect you from skin cancer.
An early study from the Lancet Journal suggested “outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.”
- Sunlight may help you keep in rhythm.
Getting enough sunlight may also help you maintain your internal biological clock which, in turn, can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better throughout the night.
You may have heard of this biological clock be referred to as your circadian rhythm.
“Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm,” according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH).
Circadian rhythms may influence hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature and other important bodily functions.
To ensure that your body clock is in sync, be sure to go outside and get some sunlight when you wake up or simply turn on the lights in your room. This will give your body the signal that it is daytime and not nighttime.
To avoid confusing your circadian rhythm try not to sit in dim settings during the day, because your body will associate the dim light with night. The less morning light you expose yourself to during the day, the more difficult it may be for you to fall asleep and wake up at your intended time.
But how much sun is too much sun?
As with most good things (like vitamins and minerals and exercise), moderation with sunlight is also key. Just because five to 15 minutes of sun exposure may bring a host of health benefits, does not mean that 10 hours will bring you more.
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that five to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure of the hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months is sufficient to keep your vitamin D levels high. Closer to the equator, where UV levels are higher, even shorter periods of exposure suffice.
As a general rule-of-thumb, fair skinned people usually get sunburned more quickly. Also, you’re more likely to get burned if you’re outside between 10 am and 4 pm, which are “peak” hours for the sun’s rays.
If you’re going to be out in the sun for a long period of time (and, let’s be honest, who stays outside for 15 minutes?), then you need to use some protection. And of course, the recommended means of protection is the use of safe sunscreen products.
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen every two hours if you are going to be outside for a prolonged period of time, and make sure your first application is 15 minutes before first exposure to the sun. Apply the right amount, which will fit approximately your cupped hand for the face area and about 30 cc for the whole body.
And always keep in mind it is very important to stay hydrated while you’re out enjoying the sun.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.