Updated: Mar 30
Spring is here and the sun is coming back. Even here in Washington, we have had a few sunny days, and the possibility of sunbathing is right around the corner.
And I can hear it already:
Be sure to put on sunscreen, and wear a hat, and better yet, just stay inside. STAY OUT OF THE SUN!!!!!!!!
Are they right? Is there a reason to avoid the sun?
Well yes, there is an increase in skin cancer with more sun exposure. Basal-cell and squamous-cell cancer, the common types of skin cancer, is increased, but they don't generally kill you and are easily treated, with an over-all cure rate of 92-99%.
Melanoma, which is very rare, may be increased as well, and melanoma is potentially deadly, but the picture is not really clear. There is no doubt more people are being diagnosed with melanoma, but the increase has been higher for office workers than for outdoor workers. Outdoor workers are half as likely to get melanoma as office workers and about 8 times less likely to die from melanoma. So avoiding the sun does not appear to be the answer to melanomas.
Is there a downside to avoiding the sun? YES! A huge downside.
Avoiding the sun leads to Vitamin D deficiency. In fact about half (47%) of adults are deficient on Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Is that a problem? Well yes it is.
Modern science tells us that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with:
That list covers a lot of territory. If you have a medical issue, it is probably on this list. If any of your loved ones died early, it very likely involved some combination of cancer, diabetes or heart disease, featured prominently on this list. In other words, sun avoidance is directly tied to the big health problems of our day.
Some people dismiss Vitamin D deficiency and say we can easily take a Vitamin D pill, and take care of that. Well stop the presses, because they have already done a bus load of studies and the results are not reassuring.
In some cases, supplementing Vitamin D just doesn’t make a difference, sometimes it does. Is that because sunlight has some other benefits in addition to Vitamin D? Maybe, maybe not. All we know is that naturally derived, sunshine Vitamin D does make a difference, and supplemental Vitamin D might help, sometimes. The smart money is on getting your Vitamin D from sun exposure.
A lot of people are more concerned with Covid-19 and other more pressing issues right now. OK, but if you are deficient on Vitamin D your chance of dying from Covid-19 quadruples. Will a Vitamin D tablet lower that risk? We are not yet sure if the tablet will lower the risk, but studies are underway and we hope to know soon. In the interim, real sun exposure is the way your body was designed to get Vitamin D.
Sunlight also helps the immune system, and again part of that can be explained by the Vitamin D increase, but sun does more than that. Sunlight also helps increase T-cell activation which is part of the initial defense against bacterial and viral infections.
At the same time research suggests sunlight decreases the risk of auto-immune diseases that are caused by the immune system going haywire and attacking healthy tissue. Examples of auto-immune diseases that appear to be decreased by sun exposure include rheumatoid arthritis, MS and ulcerative colitis. Leukemia, prostate and colon cancer are also decreased with sun exposure. In Iran, women who cover completely have 10 times as much breast cancer as women who don’t cover completely.
Huge amounts of nitric oxide are stored in your skin and sun exposure causes this nitric oxide to be released into the bloodstream. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels which lowers blood pressure. People with adequate sun exposure have lower blood pressure and less heart disease, and recent studies have shown less blood clots as well. Sun exposure may be just as important as exercise for keeping your heart healthy.
Scientists don’t know why sun exposure reduces diabetes and obesity. Sure it increases Vitamin D which helps these problems, but sun exposure seems to help more than what can be explained by the Vitamin D alone, so research is now being done to determine how the sun provides these additional benefits.
Myopia is also becoming more prevalent. Myopia or near-sightedness means they can see up close OK, but not distances. Increased screen times is suspected as being one of the causes, but recent research suggests lack of sun is the real culprit. Some countries are requiring kids to spend more time outside under the sun during the school day to address this.
Sunlight also increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Serotonin elevates mood, dopamine provides excitement, drive and ambition and endorphins reduce pain and make people happy. Thus sun exposure is linked to greatly improved mental and emotional health. People that get more sun also sleep better.
How important is it, to start getting some sun? According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine, all cause mortality was twice as high for sun avoiders compared to those that got the most sun. So I would say it is very important: life or death.
When you start getting more sun, you need to remember 3 things.
Gradual is best.
A suntan is the best protection against a sunburn.
there are a couple of rare medical conditions and some medications that make sunlight bad for you, so always check with your doctor.
Here's how you do it.
As soon as you can, start getting out in the sun. The more skin exposed, the better. Don’t wait until your July 4th picnic, put on a bikini or shorts and start making up for missed time.
The Sunlight Institute recommends that you gradually increase sun exposure to allow your body to adapt. As your skin is exposed to more sunlight, you’ll develop a tan, which will allow you to stay in the sun longer. Start off with a few minutes each day and gradually increase the time.
Lighter skinned people start with less sun and increase slower
Daily or as often as possible, start building up the suntan. Front and back.
You want to gradually get that tan, but avoid the sunburn.
Keep it up all summer and fall. Try to keep your tan as far into the fall and winter as possible.
People that get sun in a healthy way feel better than ever, physically and emotionally. You can expect to have a better mood, more energy, better sleep, less aches and pains, and less colds and flu. You will not only live longer, you will feel so much better that you will want to live longer.
Still need more information? Google: benefits of sun exposure. Or go to Amazon and order the book by Drs Sorenson and Grant: Embrace the Sun.