The Health Benefits of Sunlight
Vitamin D production first happens on our skin, when it is exposed to natural sunlight. Both UVA and UVB rays will penetrate the skin, which will then act upon the precursor cholesterol, a steroid hormone in our skin, to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. UVB rays are being shown to be more of the beneficial rays that help activate the health benefits from the sun, whereas UVA are more damaging to the skin. Excessive exposure to both will no doubt cause damage, such as wrinkling or even skin cancer. However, moderate amounts of sunlight exposure can actually decrease your risk for having cancer thanks to the benefits of our bodies converting the sunlight into vitamin D, a vitamin showing promising health benefits.
The most important function that sunlight has for our bodies is the production of Vitamin D. This fantastic vitamin, that many people are deficient in these days, holds a remarkable amount of health promoting abilities that can be turned on almost instantly. Vitamin D has been shown to regulate about 3,000 genes in our bodies, and can help repair damaged DNA. Vitamin D also helps our bodies absorb the calcium in our diets that we (hopefully) receive from fresh, dark greens or raw milk products.
Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Photo Courtesy of goranmuric.wordpress.com
Do you ever feel down in the cold, dark and winter months? It’s not just you. Many people suffer from what is known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. This seasonal disorder is mainly due to the position of the sun and its absence from the earth. Natural sunlight usually elicits a response within the body of light-heartedness, warmth and happiness. Even a sense of self security presents itself in the presence of sunlight. More often than not, you probably have experienced the effects that light has on your emotions.
During seasonal deffective disorder (SAD), seratonin levels are way low due to decreased sunlight, resulting in depressive like symptoms. Light therapy has shown much promise in helping people in this state during the winter months.
Research is currently being done on vitamin D, sunlight and depression, but what we know is that summer sunlight increases seratonin in the brain by twice as much as winter sunlight. This regulation of neurotransmitters helps increase positive mood and behavior. Also, when we expose our eyes to the sun, it activates our pineal gland, which then in turns regulates our melatonin and seratonin levels. With proper sun exposure, seratonin remains high during the day, while melatonin rises during the night (resulting in that sleepy feeling).
Depression has increased within the last century, as our exposure to natural sunlight has decreased, therefore hinting to a possible correlation (or perhaps even a strong correlation) between vitamin D and depression. Getting out in the sun every time you feel blue might blue might help promote a better sense of calm, well being and positive mood.
Photo Courtesy of activiteyouthinutah.wordpress.com
Once vitamin D is activated by sunlight or through dietary factors, it moves to the liver to form the state of vitamin D that is beneficial to our bodies (25-hydroxyvitamin D). From there, the kidneys export an enzyme which catalyzes another form of vitamin D that is crucial, and most powerful for our bodies (1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D).
A study performed at the University of Copenhagen fount that the T cells, the “fighter” white cells in our bodies, that detect foreign invaders and help remove them, are activated through the presence of vitamin D within the blood. In fact, recent research shows that without vitamin D in the body, these T cells would remain dormant. So, without this vitamin constantly circulating in our blood, we are open to receive a wide array of illness, and our bodies would not be strong enough to fight off everything that comes at us.
Usually you hear of people getting sick mainly during the cold, winter months. This was first blamed on the cold weather, but more and more speculation and intense focus on vitamin D leaves us to believe otherwise. In fact, since it is cold, and since the sun isn’t at full strength during this time of the year, we spend most of our time indoors. This, in turn, can bring about a weak immune system, leading to colds and the flu.
Vitamin D, Blood Sugar and Insulin Secretion
For anyone who is watching their insuling levels and trying to maintain relatively low blood sugar numbers, it may be surprising to know that sunlight, when activated to vitamin D in our bodies, can regulate blood sugar metabolism. In fact, the lack of sunlight, more specifically vitamin D, can increase blood sugar, causing inflammation, weight gain and sometimes depression.
Researchers at the Institute for Metabolic Science in Cambridge showed that in a ten-year follow up study of healthy, non-diabetic men, decreased insulin sensitivity, as well as increased risk for metabolic syndrome was associated with low vitamin D serum level. The study also showed that lower vitamin D serum levels elevated a hormone called parathyroid which is associated with decreased insulin sensitivity.
Insulin sensitivity is a must for people who are wanting to slow aging, lose or maintain a healthy weight and reduce inflammation (which in turn can cause increased aging and weight gain). It’s also for people who need energy during the day. When our cells are sensitive to insulin, it means they can take in the glucose from our system, into the cells and use them for energy through certain metabolic pathways. Without energy, we feel lethargic, have no motivation to exercise and can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Do you see how much vitamin D has to offer?
Every single part of your body utilizes many vitamins, hormones and metabolic pathways to repair damage to tissues, blood and cells. Vitamin D is no exception. A 4 year research study recorded in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 with 1179 women showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of cancer by up to 60%.
This is groundbreaking research. As cancer rates climb while industries promote avoiding the sun, it is only a matter of time before we start to see the correlation. Science of vitmain D in cancer prevention is gaining momentum, and many more people are staerting to understand the sunss health benefits in reducing cancer risk.
A study recorded in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology showed that breast cancer risk was decreased through exposure to vitamin D. It showed that this risk decreased through either oral supplementation of 2000 IU or by 12 minutes per day in direct sunlight (equal to about 3000 IU of vitamin D, depending on skin color).
According to researcher Cedric F. Garland, cancer prevention specialist at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, over 600,000 cases of breast and colon cancer could be prevented each year (about 150,00 in United States) through direct sunlight or adequate intake of vitamin D3. There are even some research studies which report a link between vitamin D deficiency and skin cancer, but the data has not been conclusive.
It’s no surprise that vitamin D, which is helps calcium be absorbed within our bones, can help prevent osteoporosis. However, a study in England showed that pregnant women who were deficient in vitamin D had children who grew up to have weak bones. The results of this study concluded that women who are pregnant should up their intake of vitamin D, either through sunlight or doctor recommended vitamin D3 supplementation, to help prevent their children from developing osteoporosis later on in life.
Beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow has been in the news recently following her diagnoses of osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis. In the past she followed a strict regime of avoiding the sun and dairy products. She is now on a prescription medication for vitamin D and is enjoying spending time in the sun.
Our circadian rhythms are our body’s “biological clocks” which regulate our mental and physical functions. When we expose our eyes to sunlight, our nighttime hormone that is secreted from our pineal gland in the middle of brain (the hormone that makes us feel drowsy and sleepy) ceases, and the production of seratonin starts.
Humans are designed to awake with the sun and go down with the sun, due to the effect light and dark has on our inner biological functions, such as the pineal gland secreting the hormones in response to light, or the lack thereof. When these functions our out of whack, such as if we stay up all night and sleep all day, our bodies can reovlt against these actions that go against nature, and contribute to varying rates of illnesses, most notably insomnia and cancer.
If you are having trouble sleeping, try getting out in the sun first thing in the morning, and also about 10-15 minutes during the middle of the day, avoiding being burned. This will help regulate your biological clock. Make sure you aren’t wearing sunglasses, as the waves might need to penetrate through the eyes to reach the brain to activate the pineal gland. Although, it is certainly unwise to look directly at the sun.
Photo Courtesy WoodPigeon01.wordpress.com
The sun is very helpful in attaining a healthy lifestyle, but there are some precautions you should take before you go out to sunbathe.
Research shows that you only need to stay out in the sun, unprottected, for 10-15 minutes, to receive adequate vitamin D production. Any lengths beyond this time limit without proper exposure can lead to DNA damage, accelerated skin aging and possible cancer risk.
Avoid Commercial Sunblocks
Many sunblocks contain vitmain A compounds that, when exposed to sunlight, can actually contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors. A compound known as oxybenzone is found in nearly all commercial sunscreens and can seep into the skin and be directly instilled within the blood stream and can cause tremendous amounts of free radical production. Studies have not even proved, conclusively, that sunscreens actually protect against skin cancer. The current research is contradictory.
How Your Diet Can Prevent Burning
Photo Courtesy MysticalHorizons.com
Avoiding lengthy exposure to direct sunlight can help prevent burning, but what if what you eat can help you even more? Diets rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and vitamins C and E can protect you from the inside out when exposed to the sun. Plus, these antioxidants will fight the free radicals that are the result of prolonged exposure to the sun, fighting accerlated aging. What foods can you be eating to see benefits?
As always, it’s never a good idea to stay out too long in the sun; however you could load up on these valuable ingredients the next time you will be outside. Olive oil and tomatoes, both rich in anitoxidant vitamins C and E (olive oil contains vitamin E, while tomatoes contain the vitamin C) can help prevent the burning of the skin. Also vegetable and fruits sources, high in their phytonutrient content—dark leafy greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, strawberries and blueberries. Also, one of my favorite vitamin E sources are sunflower seeds, rich in this available antioxidant. Just make sure you soak the sunflower seeds for a few hours to release any anti-nutrients that surround the seeds.
As mentioned before, commercial sunscreens haven’t been definitely proven to prevent certain cancers due to excessive exposure to the sun. In fact, many commercial sunscreens contain oxybenzone, and when exposed to sunlight can produce free radicals within the body.
There are some sunscreens that do offer protection from the sun, if you are going to be outside for longer than the amount you need to produce sufficient amount of vitamin D, that are safe and nontoxic to your body.
I have outlined the sunscreens that the Environmental Working Group deem to be the best, nontoxic sunscreens to date. Check them out.
I hope you all are enjoying your summer, and I hope to be blogging more frequently from now on. Keep sending me your comments and emails, as I love hearing from you guys on how you are revitalizing your health.
This is The Healthy Advocate.