This summer season, I'm declaring an end to the 'War on Sunshine'. It's becoming truly ridiculous. There are some wild misconceptions in regards to the Sun and our health, many of which are perpetuated by Western medicine and mainstream media. In an attempt to clarify much of the confusion and misinformation surrounding this topic, I've composed this thoroughly-researched piece, and hope it will lessen the collective fear of the Sun. We are, after all, beings who live by the Sun, relying on it entirely for life in so many different ways.
According to recent government estimates, the average American spends 90% of their life indoors. YIKES, on so many levels. Is it any wonder that we are experiencing the highest rates ever of heart disease, cancer, and mental illness?
The Sun is our greatest, most-reliable, and most bio-available source of vitamin D - a vitamin that is needed at virtually every level for optimal health. It is the only vitamin not produced in a mother's breast milk, and is nearly impossible to get through our diet alone, as very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Instead, vitamin D is produced within the body once the skin is exposed to sunlight. Of course, most Americans are dangerously deficient in D, as evidenced by the statistic above. There is a pervasive fear within our culture of the Sun, for fear of skin cancer. And I get it, to an extent. But even so, we must realize that the body was designed to recharge and restrengthen in the Sun, by way of vitamin D synthesis.
Every single tissue within the human body contains vitamin D receptors - including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system - making it absolutely essential for brain and body health. When the body is fueled adequately in this way, we experience:
- Strengthened bones and teeth, as vitamin D must be present in order for calcium and phosphorus (essential minerals for developing and maintaining bone strength) to be absorbed and utilized within the body.
- Reduced levels of inflammation, subsequently lowering our risk for a host of inflammation-related diseases (including heart disease, arthritis, depression, digestive complications, and cancer).
- Improved respiratory health and function.
- Dramatic strengthening of the immune system.
- Regulated blood pressure and improved cardiovascular function.
- Significant decreases in blood cholesterol levels.
- Heightened cognitive function and elevated mood.
- Reduction in our risk of cancer.
- Improved muscle function, and decreased risk of multiple sclerosis.
Whew. All of this from some simple sunshine. And without adequate Sun (and as a result, inadequate levels of vitamin D), we put ourselves at greater risk for asthma, type-II diabetes, cancer, acne, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and type-I diabetes, among other disorders and dis-eases.
In response to this, many are supplementing with vitamin D in pill-form, as well as in the form of vitamin D "enriched" processed foods. Unfortunately, synthetic vitamin D is not bioavailable within our bodies, making it highly unlikely that we are even able to use it. The Sun is truly the best and most effective way. Doctors and researchers in the field recommend 15-30 minutes of sun exposure each day. Sunscreens block 99 percent of the UVB rays our skin needs to produce D, so allow your arms and legs to go unprotected during this time. After the allotted time period, head into the shade or reach for a natural, mineral-based sunscreen.
Sun exposure plays a particularly important role for those with heart disease and high cholesterol, disease that are deeply understood within our modern culture, yet are easily reservable through diet and lifestyle practices. In way of heart disease, recent research indicates that many cases of what appear to be cardiovascular disease are actually the result of the body’s attempt to compensate for a lack of cholesterol sulfate. Cholesterol sulfate is produced in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight, and is absolutely critical for brain and heart health. When you are deficient in cholesterol sulfate due to lack of sun exposure, your body is forced to employ a different method to produce it.
Your body is able to produce the cholesterol sulfate it needs by taking LDL (bad) cholesterol and turning it into plaque. Within the plaque, blood platelets separate out the beneficial HDL cholesterol, and through a process involving homocysteine as a source of sulfate, the platelets go on to produce the cholesterol sulfate your heart and brain needs. However, this production and accumulation of plaque also causes the unfortunate side effect of increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
How do you avoid this? By getting adequate sunlight. Through sun exposure, your skin will naturally produce cholesterol sulfate, which will then flow freely thru your blood - not packaged up inside LDL cholesterol. This process allows your liver to decrease its production of LDL, therefore decreasing the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood and body. In fact, there is an inverse relationship between sun exposure and cardiovascular disease - the more sunlight, the less cardiovascular disease.
Do I advocate throwing away your sun protection and allowing yourself to irresponsibly bake on the beach? No. But I am encouraging you to embrace our native roots, which are that of a solar-powered being. This summer, begin to reframe how you view the Sun, and use it as it was intended by nature: a tool to allow us the experience of more thriving physical and emotional health.