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How to get the most out of the sun

I have noticed people are scared of the sun.  People are so worried about damaging their skin that they slather on sun factor 50 creams every day 365 days in the year.  I am a little different.  I love the sun.  It is the life force of every living thing and should be respected but used to our advantage. Of course, this  doesn’t mean that I am a sun worshipper, I don’t sunbathe and never have really but I have also not really been very religious when it comes to using sun creams either.  I mean, when I was in my 20’s to a few years ago  I would wear an SPF 15 day cream as I was worried about sun damage to my facial skin, but then I would generally be out doors more often too.  Over the last few years I have not really bothered too much with SPF products.  Why, I hear you ask?

I live in the UK and there are only a limited amount of months where we get a nice levels of sun and in the winter the days are short and it’s often cloudy.  I spend most of the day inside, getting mostly artificial light and the only times I get the sun is when I am taking the kids to school or going on errands.  So there is not much opportunity to get any much needed sunlight let alone enough to cause my skin to burn or even cause much damage generally.  I kind of take a common sense approach to sun care.  In the summer, if I suspect I will be outdoors for any great length of time I might use quite strong sun protection, that would be walking outside in the blaring sun or being on the beach. But even in summer, if I am going out for say 15 minutes or so I might not bother.  It also depends on the time of day I go out.  I might be more likely to wear sun cream if I go out on a warm afternoon rather than in the morning when the sun is not at its strongest.  You may think I am being lackadaisical about the whole thing and that I am doing myself some serious skin damage but there is a reason for this.  As I am getting older I am a lot more mindful of the need for vitamin D and its importance for bone health and our general health.  So why is Vitamin D important?

Vitamin D and the Sun

The skin naturally produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight.  Vitamin D receptors are found in virtually every cell in the human body. As a result, it plays a wide role in the body’s functions, including cell growth modulation, neuro-muscular, immune function and inflammation reduction. There are various studies that suggest vitamin D deficiency can lead to cancers, heart disease, auto immune diseases and other illnesses. But the most obvious and known effect is its relationship with bone health as lack of vitamin D it is linked to osteopenia and osteoporosis, which causes bone fractures.  Now if you have ever met anyone with osteoporosis you will know that fractures happen from llittle to no impact.  I have seen many cases of spinal fractures caused by simply holding the body upright. Its a serious condition that is not easy to treat or to overcome.

Vitamin D plays an important role in helping the body absorb calcium which is needed for bone density.  As most know, bone density decreases as we get older and it also takes a lot more exercise or effort to increase bone mass as we age.  It is possible to obtain smaller amounts of the vitamin D through foods, such as milk fortified with vitamin D, however, the most efficient way to produce vitamin D is via sun exposure.

A recent study published by The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association states  ”nearly 1 billion people worldwide may have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D due to chronic disease and inadequate sun exposure related to sunscreen use.”

The exact levels of exposure depend on an individuals geographical location and skin pigmentation – people with darker skin have more melanin and synthesis Vitamin D at a slower rate than fairer skinned people.  Depending on how dark skinned you are, the author suggests exposing your body to the sun for between 5 and 30 minutes daily and at that time to forgo use of sun protection as even sun factor 15 can decrease vitamin D3 production by up to 99%.  The author concludes “You don’t need to go sunbathing at the beach to get the benefits…simple walk with arms and legs exposed is enough for most people.”

It turns out that my recent attitude to the sun and wearing sun protection might be right.

 

References:

  1. Kim M. Pfotenhauer, Jay H. Shubrook. Vitamin D Deficiency, Its Role in Health and Disease, and Current Supplementation Recommendations. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2017; 117 (5): 301 DOI: 10.7556/jaoa.2017.055
  2. E. Laird, H. McNulty, M. Ward, L. Hoey, E. McSorley, J. M. W. Wallace‡, E. Carson, A. M. Molloy, M. Healy, M. C. Casey, C. Cunningham, and J. J. Strain. Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Inflammation in Older Irish Adults. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, February 2014

 

 

 

 

 

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