The dangers of overexposure to the sun have been drilled into us and rightly so. There's little question that excessive solar radiation damages skin, causing the changes we often associate with aging (thick leathery texture, wrinkles, brown spots) and the far more serious risk of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma.
Most of us are aware that too much sun can cause cancer, premature aging, and damage to the eyes. But many of us have no idea that too little sun can have damaging effects on the body as well. According to the US National Library of Medicine’s National Institute of Health (NIH), while “skin cancer is associated with too much UVR [sun] exposure, other cancers could result from too little.” Even early stages of melanoma have shown improvement with increased sun exposure. In fact, studies show, “occupational exposure to sunlight actually reduced melanoma risk.” One study linked the benefits of sunshine to a “50–77% reduction in expected incidence rates of all cancers combined over a four-year period in post-menopausal women living in Nebraska.
But there is more. According to this same report, which relies on several professional studies, there are many diseases that can be aggravated by too little sunshine:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
- Cardiovascular Diseases
- Metabolic Disorders
- Prostate Cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Psoriasis and other skin conditions
- And more
What is it about sunshine that is so important to human health? The answer is vitamin D. While many vitamins and minerals must be supplied by our food, vitamin D has a different primary source: the sun. A fair skinned human body can create 50,000 IU of vitamin D in a 30-minute summer session of sunshine. For a tanned person, the same amount of exposure would create 20,000-30,000 IU. A dark-skinned individual would benefit with about 8,000 IU.
What does vitamin D do for the body? Vitamin D is a hormone precursor that contributes to the maintenance of normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
- It plays an important role in the maintenance of the skeletal structure.
- It regulates the growth of skin cells.
- It regulates more than 1000 different genes that affect every tissue in the body.
- It regulates calcium in the bones.
- It supports “most metabolic functions, neuromuscular transmission, and bone mineralization.”
- It strengthens muscles and bones.
- The best time of day to gather vitamin D from the sun is when it is high enough in the sky to penetrate the atmosphere.
- A moderate dose of sunshine should turn the skin pink (but not burn).
- 20,000 IU of vitamin D can be made in 20 minutes — depending on your skin tone.
- Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D.
Additional Benefits of Sunshine
- Exposure to the sun’s radiation can increase T cells and other immune cell responders, thereby helping to prevent autoimmune disease.
- Sunshine exposure stimulates melanocytes and keratinocytes in the skin and releases α-MSH, which improves the immune system, limits oxidative DNA damage, and increases gene repair.
- Sun exposure releases powerful neuropeptides which build up the immune system (which may explain why sunlight helps fight psoriasis).
- Sun exposure results in increased lymphocyte proliferation and chemotaxis (chemically mediated movement).
- Sun exposure releases natural opiates called endorphins into the blood.
Research suggests that light hitting your skin, not just your eyes, helps reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Sun light provides all kinds of benefits to heal the body. Let’s embrace its healing power and make a commitment to get our daily dose of vitamin D.
There is a middle way that includes using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 when you're outside for an extended periods of time.
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