In this post, we will look at the benefits of sunlight on our health.
Our Paleolithic ancestors living along the equatorial zone of Africa spent much time in the sun. Through adaptation their skin pigmentation (more melanin) darkened into a natural protective sunscreen due to the sun’s strong ultraviolet rays. It was here, that the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays provided the greatest potential for our ancestor’s vitamin D production. As they migrated out of Africa and into the more Northern latitudes, the sun’s beneficial UVB rays declined in strength. In response, our ancestor’s skin pigmentation became lighter in color (less melanin). This adaptation allowed the milder UVB rays to penetrate the skin more quickly, so that the body’s vitamin D production could be maintained.
Through extensive research scientist have come to understand the body’s need for vitamin D (really considered a hormone) as a protectant of our mental and physical well-being. Vitamin D receptors are present all throughout our bodies and influence about 3,000 of our genes. Vitamin D works closely with Gene P53 in regulating the millions of cell replications that go on daily. This helps to ensure that cell mutations, which could lead to cancer, are eliminated through apoptosis (programmed cell death). Vitamin D is also important in the development and maintenance of our bones.
As an industrialized society, we are severely deficient in vitamin D and cannot get enough from diet alone. We spend a great deal of our time indoors. When we do go outside for an extended stay, we cover our bodies with a sunscreen product eliminating the much-needed opportunity for our bodies to produce vitamin D. With regards to commercial sunscreen products, they have inherent dangers as they contain toxic chemicals to the skin like octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or titanium dioxide and they should be avoided.
Our vitamin D deficiency has manifested itself in about 16 forms of cancer especially breast cancer. Breast cancer has been labeled “vitamin D deficiency syndrome” and the condition represents about 90 percent of all breast cancer cases. In addition, vitamin D deficiencies put us at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases such as: rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease and many more.
In an effort to remedy our vitamin D deficiency, we could take an oral vitamin D3 supplement. Recommendations are usually for 2,000 to 5,000 International Units (I.U.) per day for adults or an ideal lab target of 80 nanograms per milliliter of 25-hydroxy vitamin D. It’s best to have our doctors test the levels every three months to insure the proper amount. Before starting a supplementation program, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that the supplement is compatible with other medications you may be taking.
When we expose large areas of our skin to summer sunlight for a short period of time, our bodies can produce between 10,000 to 25,000 I.U. of vitamin D per day from the sun’s UVB rays. A biologically inactive form of vitamin D is synthesized from cholesterol and sunlight within our skin layer. It becomes biologically active through a two-step conversion process occurring first in our liver and then completed by our kidneys. The amount of sun exposure needed for vitamin D synthesis occurs just before our skin turns pink. The important thing to remember is to keep your skin from burning. By slowly building up daily our exposure to the sun, we allow the skin’s pigment (melanin) to increase and give the best form of sunscreen. With regular sun exposure we are building our vitamin D stores to carry us through the winter months. The benefits of UVB sun exposure to our overall health far exceed the risk of possible skin cancer. The key for success is to slowly build our sun exposure and not let our skin burn.
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For my next post, we will look at the benefits of sleep on our health.
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