I have a pet chicken. I used to have 4, but just one now. Did you know chickens sunbathe? The first time I saw it it was over 100 degrees and Lulu the hen who has long since departed was recovering from an illness that took her flock down quickly. I look out to see her lying in the sun looking as if she had given up on life. Of course I ran out to move her to a cooler spot but she knew what she was doing. She hopped up and ran off. I remembered all I had read up about chickens and realized what was going on. Lulu was sunbathing to balance her hormones and kill off the virus that had cruelly killed her sisters. She recovered and lived several more years.
As I write this it is 106 degrees and feels like 128 with a UV index of 12 (extreme risk) and the dust from the Sahara has settled over North Texas. I'm not exactly going to bask in the glory of the sun right now. I am not as strong as a chicken I guess. I did spend some time outside before 10am though. That is your window right here, right now and it is an important window.
We are all aware of the dangers of the sun. We know that everyone, regardless of pigmentation, should wear some sort of sunscreen. I know too many people that have had skin cancer. People I care about very much. I am mentally sending love to 4 right now. These people need to heed whatever their doctors have suggested for sure, 100%. I will have a note about sunscreen at the end of the blog you may want to look at.
Everything health related has a risk/benefit factor. We know some of the risks, lets look at the benefits and how to receive the benefits while reducing the risks as best as we can with what the studies are saying currently. For those of us who love sources and studies all underlined text in this article are links to studies or other sources for your viewing pleasure.
WHO reports that there is an annual disease burden of 3.3 billion DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) from LOW LEVELS of sun exposure!
Vitamin D is actually a hormone and it controls blood calcium and affects the immune system. D3 is what our bodies produce when our skin is exposed to the sun. You can get D3 in a vitamin made from sheep's wool. You can take a vegan form of D, D2 which is made from yeast and fungi. D3 is showing to be more beneficial at lower doses than D2. Vitamin D containing foods are oily fish, egg yolks ( don't leave them out and only consume the white, please), beef liver, and mushrooms. There are also foods fortified with vitamin d such as milk and orange juice.
On average if you spend 30 minutes in a swimsuit in the sun it can initiate the release of 50,000 IU of vitamin D into circulation within 24 hours if you are pale, about 20,000-30,000 IU if you are tanned, and 8,000-10,000 IU if you are dark skinned. If you go out in long pants and sleeves, with sunscreen this number drops dramatically. All you really need is 3 - 30 minutes depending on your skin tone, going longer the darker your skin is, with 40% of the skin exposed. Can't do that? You can take a 4,000 IU Vitamin D3. When you can do it you can reduce that to 2,000 as recommend by most professionals. Consult your doctor on what is right for you and have your levels tested to be sure. I still think sun is better, but needs must. Note that longer doesn't equal better. If you're roasting your skin you are not getting more vitamin D, but you are increasing your risk of skin cancer. So stay within the limit. You can still get sun screen and protective clothing and go back out if it isn't too hot and you drink your water.
Let's look at those benefits.
200-600 IU of vitamin D and calcium resulted in 50-77% reduction of all cancers in post-menopausal women living in Nebraska in a clinical trial published in 2007.
A study published in 2005 linked continued high exposure of sun to increased survival rates in people with early-stage melanoma. Yes, people who were recovering from treatment of melanoma actually benefited from getting sun!
Living at higher latitudes (less intense sun exposed areas) increases risk of dying from Hodgkin lymphoma and breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, prostate, and other cancers compared to those living at lower latitudes.
People living at higher latitudes are also at a higher risk of hypertension. Rolf Dieter Krause of the Free University of Berlin Department of Natural Medicine and colleagues had a group of people with high blood pressure use a tanning bed which emitted full-spectrum UVR, which is similar to summer sun, and another group to a tanning bed which only emitted UVA, which is similar to winter sun. Those who used the full-spectrum tanning bed decreased their BP to normal ranges whereas the UVA only group showed no change.
People with heart disease are often found to have low levels of vitamin D. This is probably because vitamin D has been shown to be cardioprotective because the vascular muscles relax in the presence of vitamin D.
Without appropriate levels of vitamin D a child's bones will not develop properly resulting in rickets. The bones of adults also require vitamin D. A 2007 study showed that low levels of vitamin D showed to cause or worsen osteoporosis in both men and women.
Other health issues benefiting from vitamin D, particularly that which our bodies make from sunlight are:
Inflammatory bowel disease
There is also an autoimmune protective factor reducing colds, flus, and other viral and bacterial infections. Is this part of the reason we have more colds and flus in winter? I think yes.
MOOD AND SLEEP:
The earlier in the morning your eyes are exposed to the bright sunshine the earlier in the evening your nightly melatonin is produced. This means you will sleep easier. You should also turn off your electronics for your melatonin/seratonin cycle sake, but that is another topic. A good melatonin/seratonin cycle is helpful for PMS and seasonal affective disorder suffers as well and insomniacs. To promote the cycle get up to a well-lit room or sunshine, open the blinds or step outside several times a day, and sleep in total darkness.
Exposure to that UVR from the summer sun increases your levels of endorphins which are natural opiates. You may be familiar with the endorphins produced by exercise. To quote Legally Blonde, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't just kill their husbands. They just don't." The same could be said for people who get appropriate and safe amounts of sunlight. So don't kill your husband, get sunlight and exercise and be happy!
Something I'd encourage you to ask yourself is: Are you and your loved ones getting sunlight or at least vitamin D? Especially if you are responsible for the health of someone who cannot care for themselves. The risk of bone health, infection, depression, insomnia, etc are too high to ignore for something as simple as sitting in the sun and/or taking a supplement.
Note on sunscreen:
I recommend Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen as it is the most recommended to people who have a skin cancer, is water-resistant, includes no fragrances or parabens. It does not contain oxybenzone which is destroying the coral reef. Plus, I have personally tested it in Mexico on my very pale and sunburn-prone skin with 100% success.
Note on SAD:
Seasonal affective disorder is real. The symptoms are: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, loneliness, loss of interest, mood swings, irritability, depression, weight gain and insomnia to name just a few. It can happen in the winter when the sunlight is short-lived or in the heat of summer if you avoid the sun at all costs. There are lamps you can get to light your way through SAD if you think this may apply to you. Exercise is recommended. There are more treatments availible if these don't work for you. Talk to your doctor. Don't suffer in darkness.