Problem: Lack of Sunlight
The number of people around the globe suffering from illnesses associated with vitamin D deficiency is truly astronomical. One estimate is that lack of vitamin D is causing one medical disorder or another in 40% of the world’s population—nearly 3 billion people. In the U.S. alone, a wide array of illnesses that afflict up to 200 million people have a single common risk factor—vitamin D deficiency.1 There is no escaping the fact that a deficiency of vitamin D is the most common medical condition in the world, with consequences that can be devastating, even fatal.
For years, we have been warned of the damaging toll overexposure to sunlight can have on our bodies, and every summer we hear the same terrifying stories of what might happen if we don’t heed these warnings. We have become aware, cautious, and even paranoid of the consequences of spending too much time basking in the sun while unprotected. At the least, overexposure to the sun’s rays can cause painful burns that result in mild discomfort for a brief period of time. At the most, this overexposure can serve as the cause for malignant melanoma, a life threatening cancer that may remain small for a long time, but can eventually spread and develop swiftly, evolving into a serious disease.2
Recognizing these potential dangers, it makes sense to be wary of the sun. However, it is important to realize that the sun is essential to our health, happiness, and ultimately, our survival. There are just as many health benefits associated with the sun’s rays as there are risks. In fact, moderate exposure to the sun’s rays far outweigh the potential hazards of exposure.3 And there are many who suffer from poor health because of reduced exposure to sunlight.
In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice is the darkest time of the year, and many may not see sunlight for days at a time. This lack of sunlight affects your biological clock—disrupting your circadian rhythm—and can result in a sort of seasonal depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Aside from depression, other symptoms of SAD may include increased irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, fatigue, and crying spells. These symptoms generally present themselves in the fall each year, lasting until spring, with the symptoms increasing in severity during the darkest months. In the most severe cases, Seasonal Affective Disorder can be associated with thoughts of suicide.4
Beyond this bio-chemical imbalance, the most serious results of underexposure to sunlight is that our bodies have much more difficulty producing vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that—among many other things—assists the body in the absorption of calcium. There are many factors that have an affect on your body’s ability to produce this nutrient, including age, geography, and skin type. But ultimately, it is reduced exposure to sunlight that causes many adults to become vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low bone density, osteoporosis, poor muscle strength, and even some forms of cancer.5
But how do we find the proper balance between overexposure and underexposure?
1 Holick, MF The Vitamin D Solution. Hudson Street Press: New York. 2010. p. xii.
2 American Academy of Dermatology. Malignant Melanoma. http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/sun_malignant.html
3 Holick, MF The UV Advantage. iBooks: New York. 2003. Ch. 4. “Sunshine is Powerful Medicine.”
4 “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Symptoms, Treatments, Causes.” http://www.medicinenet.com/seasonal_affective_disorder_sad/article.htm
6 Walch, JM et al. The effect of sunlight on postoperative analgesic medication use: A prospective suty of patients undergoing spinal surgery. Psychosomatic Medicine 67:156-163. 2005.
7 Mejia, R. Green exercise may be good for your head. Environmental Science & Technology. 44:3649. 2010.