By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
There’s tons of information out there about all the terrible effects of the sun but it’s also important to realise that it is vital for our health. The WHO in 2006 stated with a report called The Global Burden of Disease Due to Ultraviolet Radiation that too much sun accounted for significantly less disease than the large issue surrounding health and disease from TOO LITTLE sun exposure. Too little exposure is related to major disorders of the musculoskeletal system, an increased risk of various autoimmune diseases and life-threatening cancers.
Some scientists worry that the emphasis on preventing skin cancers tends to obscure the much larger mortality burden posed by more life-threatening cancers such as lung, colon, and breast cancers that may be related to insufficient sun exposure and vitamin D levels. Many studies have shown that cancer-related death rates decline as one moves toward the equator.
The best known benefit of sunlight exposure without sunscreen is: Natural Boost to Vitamin D Levels
Other important sun dependant pathways:
Immune mediators that help to prevent of Autoimmune diseases – via UV radiation that helps to reduce self-reactive T cells. Stimulation of other factors that support a healthy immune system and endorphin stimulation and production in the blood.
All of these reasons may be why shift workers have a much shorter life expectancy.
How much sun exposure I hear you say!
This is largely dependent on where you live, what time of the year it is and how dark your natural skin tone is. During the winter months in some areas in the world that are a certain distance from the equator you do not receive any Vitamin D while some areas that are in a hotter climate will get adequate Vitamin D all year round.
It is estimated that a fair skinned person who bathes in sunlight for 30 minutes receives 50,000IU of Vitamin D while a darker skinned person may produce 8,000-10,000IU. Items that reduce Vitamin D synthesis include sunscreen, clothes, darker skin tones and subcutaneous body fat.
Short amounts of repeated sun exposure is the best way to ensure adequate sun exposure and good health. It is important to avoid any sunburn and to avoid exposure during high UV index days. Letting your skin change color very very slightly might be the best guide, normally 10-30 minutes while exposing 15% of your body depending on various factors as mentioned and on hot days only a few minutes may be enough.
Wearing a healthy sunscreen is important for longer periods of time. It’s also important to remember that sun binging is also not recommended. Often people are indoors all the time then they may suddenly spend many hours in the sun on a holiday and this unfortunately can cause permanent skin damage.
It’s important to remember that excessive sun exposure can increase DNA damage, where it can contribute to skin cancer indirectly via generation of DNA-damaging molecules. Excess sun exposure can cause damage to the collagen fibres, destroy vitamin A in the skin, cause cataracts and contribute to the aging of the skin.
It is important to note that many plant compounds and antioxidants help to protect our body from these free radicals that injure skin cells. Carotenoids and other antioxidants in plant foods act as a natural sunscreen in the skin. Not only do these nutrients offer us a level of natural sunscreen but they also have the antioxidant free radical scavenging activity that helps protect the cells from oxidative damage which may lead to cancer development. Here is more on the best foods for the protection of your skin.