Good Sun, Bad Sun
In recent times, the sun has been vilified by most doctors, especially
dermatologists. The current message is "cover-up or die". Yes, the sun's rays
do contain ultraviolet radiation that can damage your skin and even cause
cancer with over-exposure. But with careful sun exposure, the benefits
outweigh the potential risks. That is why the sun has been used as a
therapeutic tool since the times of the ancient Greeks. The sun provides
multiple benefits that we badly need.
Ultraviolet Light is Your Friend
For our discussion, there are basically two types of ultraviolet light,
ultraviolet A and B. Ultraviolet A (UVA) contributes to tanning but also
carries with it the potential for premature aging and wrinkles. Ultraviolet
B (UVB), known as the "tanning" ray, is best known for producing vitamin D
but it can also cause sunburns. If you get too much, both types of UV light
can severely damage your skin and lead to skin cancer. UV rays are more
intense in the summer, at higher altitudes, and closer to the equator.
At latitudes above 34, UV light is almost non-existent in the winter months,
due to the angle of the sun.
The fear of the sun that has been perpetuated by special interests is
unwarranted. Dr. Robert S. Stern, chair of the Department of Dermatology at
Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, calls people who
avoid the sun at all costs "solar-phobes." These people are so concerned
about getting skin cancer that they stay inside or cover every bit of their
skin. Dr. Stern says "they cover up like they were going out into the
Arabian Desert. The marketing of ultra-blocking sunscreens and special
sun-protective clothing plays into these fears."
When UVB light from the sun strikes your skin it begins a cascade of
chemical reactions leading to vitamin D production. We are now learning
that vitamin D is required by every single cell in your body to maintain
health. Just like everything else, some sun exposure is good; a lot can
detrimental. Research has found that 10 to 15 minutes of full body sun
exposure every other day is adequate to produce enough vitamin D for good
health. Experts are now learning that a lack of sun exposure may be more
dangerous than too much. Can you get too much sun? Absolutely yes! Past the
10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure is when the damage to your skin begins.
That is when covering-up or getting out of the sun is your best option for
Multiple Health Benefits
There is a well-documented relationship between low vitamin D levels and
poor bone health. Now links to low vitamin D levels have been made to
almost every major cancer. Getting some sun may also shake off the
wintertime blues. Research suggests that light hitting your skin, not just
your eyes, helps reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Moreover, being
outside golfing, gardening, and engaging in other types of physical activity
is good for your health. In addition, UVB irradiance and vitamin D also provide
important health benefits in preventing or ameliorating such conditions or
diseases as bone diseases and muscle pain, multiple sclerosis, type 1 and
type 2 diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure.
Where is the Logic?
Your body was clearly designed to produce vitamin D from sun exposure.
Why? There are no naturally occurring sources of vitamin D in the foods
you eat. If there were, adequate levels of vitamin D could be obtained from
your diet. This is impossible to do. Supplements can be used to improve
vitamin D levels but because of the substantial amounts required, a blood test
is necessary to prevent overdosing. When sun exposure is used to increase
vitamin D levels, your skin has a natural protection mechanism that stops
production preventing overdosing. Just remember to practice safe sun and
your body and health will thank you for it.