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
- One thousand different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body are now thought to be regulated by Vitamin D. Vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin through a photosynthetic reaction triggered by exposure to UVB radiation.
- Low levels of Vitamin D have been correlated to osteoporosis, rickets in children, MS, Diabetes Type 1 & 2, insulin resistance, thyroiditis, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, immune suppression, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
- ‘William Grant, who directs the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center, a research and education organization based in San Francisco, suspects that sun exposure and higher 25(OH)D levels may confer protection against other illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), asthma, and infectious diseases.’
- Sufficient vitamin D levels are also associated with better immune health due to Vitamin D inducing cathelicidin, a polypeptide that effectively combats both bacterial and viral infections. This may explain the seasonal issues with influenza and other infective diseases.
- Last century sunlight exposure was promoted for the prevention of rickets, osteoporosis, active tuberculosis, diabetes and other chronic pain disorders and health issues.
- Natural support of our circadian rhythm – this supports the normal production of healthy endocrine function and neurotransmitter chemistry to support adequate sleep, motivation and improved mood. Melatonin is produced during the dark hours and stops upon optic exposure to daylight. We are designed to be up and about during those daylight hours and asleep in the dark hours. Sun exposure helps to support these normal hormonal changes.
- Interestingly melatonin helps to reduce skin damage and aging, it is associated with reduced risk of disease due to its effect on reducing inflammation, cancer, autoimmunity and infection.
- Sensible sun exposure helps to stimulate serotonin and other hormones that then support the conversion of melatonin at night when darkness occurs. Being indoors too often and lack of sun exposure disrupts this normal rhythm and can cause a host of associated issues such as insomnia, PMS, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), increased risk of obesity and other chronic health issues.
- Serotonin that is stimulated by daylight supports a happy mood, contentment and calmness. It is important for people that spend many hours indoors to go outdoors periodically to ensure healthy neurotransmitter and hormone production.
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.