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?
Moderation is the key when it comes to exposing your skin to the sun’s rays. Fifteen to 20 minutes of sunlight on your face without sunscreen is recommended each day. This may lower your blood pressure, assist in the detoxification of your liver, strengthen your immune system, and, of course, provide your body with the most convenient and least expensive source of vitamin D.
Because of this, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the sun has been called the “life giving orb” for centuries. It is a proven fact that daily exposure to the sun can have many benefits to your health. It can even reduce stress, leaving you with a happier, “sunnier” disposition.6
If you’re struggling to find the time to get out in the sun, take a daily vitamin D supplement with at least 2,000 IUs (International Units) during the winter or year-round if you can’t get out into the sun each day.1 Also, remember that staying active is a great way to ensure that your body gets the physical exercise it needs as well as the right amount of sunlight. Treat yourself to a nice walk or a brisk jog around your neighborhood. A couple of laps at your community swimming pool are also recommended during the warmer months. Your body will feel great because of the exercise, and you’ll have the opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits sunshine has to offer.7
Just think of sunlight as one of your oldest friends—you need them and they’re great in small doses, but too much exposure can be bad for your health.
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.