The Bright Benefits of Sun
With summer here, the common public health messages tell us to avoid sun exposure and to wear sunblock at all times. Indeed, too many UVA and UVB rays can cause damage at the cellular level and contribute to disease.
Yet, three out of four Americans are vitamin D deficient, which has implications for many diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases (Lipman, 2010).
Are the messages to slather on the sunblock causing more harm than good? The answer is likely, "Yes."
Sun, after all, is a magnificent thing! The light component itself has an important effect on intercellular function and our biological circadian rhythms, which in turn has an important effect on overall health, cognition, and wellbeing (Kent, et.al., 2009).
The slight coloring (not burning) of skin with sun exposure signifies vitamin D production. This is an essential component affecting at least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body (Mead, 2008). Amongst numerous benefits, this hormone-like vitamin boasts cancer prevention, proper bone growth and brain health, and a 60-70% reduction of autoimmune diseases.
Because it is tough to consume adequate vitamin D from food sources, a proper amount of vitamin D synthesis requires daily sun exposure. Unfortunately, two main problems are inhibiting our ability to synthesize adequate amounts, causing an epidemic of health consequences related to vitamin D deficiency.
1) Sun Exposure
Whether due to busy lives or living at higher latitudes, limited sun exposure is a primary cause of vitamin D deficiency. In fact, researchers have found that people who live in higher latitudes are more prone to vitamin D deficiency, cancer development, and death (Lipman, 2010).
2) Sunscreen: Toxic Products and Overuse
Another cause of vitamin D deficiency is sunblock, because when sunblock is used at any SPF, 100% of vitamin D production is stopped. This helps explain why 30 - 40% of people living in Miami are vitamin D deficient (Spiegler, 2010).
In addition, sunscreen products typically contain harmful toxins that are quickly absorbed into our skin, which can cause damaging byproducts like hormone disruption, free radicals, and even cancer (Environmental Working Group, 2013).
Harnessing Solar Power
What, then, is the best advice for proper sun exposure and vitamin D synthesis?
1) Supplement with Vitamin D3.
At DBC, we often encourage most patients to take vitamin D during the long Michigan winters in the form of D3, or cholecalciferol, because it is the most bioavailable form in our bodies. Nature’s Remedies carries one of the highest quality, most effective forms of vitamin D3, called “High D.”
When sun exposure is plentiful, like in the summer, back off on vitamin D3 supplementation, and aim for at least 30 minutes of unprotected sun with your legs, arms, and head exposed. If you have fair skin, start with 10 minutes at a time to avoid burning.
2) Proper sunscreen use.
After you’ve gotten your 30 minutes of sun exposure for the day, it’s best to stay in the shade or cover up with clothing and a hat.
If you are unable to stay in the shade or cover up with clothing, it is best to use a natural sunscreen of SPF 30, which provides 96.7% protection, respectively.
Beware that most sunscreens contain harmful ingredients like parabens, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and retinyl palmitate. Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are the safest minerals and actually block UV rays.
The Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide and Skin Deep database are great resources to ensure healthy sun care and the use of safe products. Badger's Broad Spectrum Sport SPF 35 and Badger's Active Broad Spectrum SPF 30 are two of the cleanest, best ranking sunblock products.
3) Consume foods with vitamin D.
Very few foods naturally have vitamin D. Although fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in American diets of today, at DBC, we don’t encourage eating these processed foods because they contain synthetic and harmful ingredients.
Foods that do contain some vitamin D naturally include fatty fish like salmon and tuna, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
With these tips, you can safely and healthfully embrace the sun and all of its protective health benefits!
Kent, Shia, McClure, Leslie, Crosson, William, Arnett, Donna, Wadley, Virginia, Sathiajumar, Nalini. Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study.Environmental Health, January 2009: 8:34.http://www.ehjournal.net/content/8/1/34
Lipman, Frank. Vitamin D Health: Why You Shouldn’t Shun the Sun. Huffpost Healthy Living. 22 June 2010.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-frank-lipman/vitamin-d-health-why-you_b_619558.html
Mead, Nathaniel. Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008 April; 116(4): A160–A167. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/
Spiegler, Eileen. Vitamin D: The Sunshine Viatmin. A Q&A with Dr. Silvina Levis. Seniority Matters. 21 November 2010.https://senioritymatters.com/living_room/articles/article_detail/50/Vitamin-D-The-Sunshine-Vitamin-A-QA-with-Dr-Silvina-Levis.html.
Sunscreens exposed: Nine surprising truths. Environmental Working Group. 2013. http://www.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/sunscreens-exposed-9-surprising-truths/