Is the Sun Really So Dangerous?
The sun dispatches its warm glow of yellow light rays everyday, beaming in health, vitality, light and warmth. Yet after hearing all the warnings about its harmful effects, we fend off the sun as it were the enemy and sunblock, sunglasses and wide-brim hats are our weapons. Can brother sun be so dangerous?
The sun benefits us in a number of ways. The sun delivers heat, raising core body temperature. Higher core body temperatures facilitate increased cell function and higher energy. This increases our detoxification and purification systems. Sun also regulates our natural biorhythm cycles. Boosted core temperatures increase cortisol levels during the day, ushering more relaxation and deeper sleep during the night.
Just as plants photosynthesize nutrients from the sun, our bodies need it for our own photosynthetic activities. Primarily from the sun’s UVB rays our bodies synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D is most known to regulate calcium levels and absorption. It is necessary for healthy bones and teeth. Also important for healthy immune function, nervous function and for insulin/blood sugar regulation, numerous endocrine and digestive functions, vitamin D is a necessary component for good health.
It has been reported that one in seven adults is vitamin D deficient. A study of medical ward patients showed 57% were vitamin D deficient and 42% were deficient despite taking recommended dosage of supplemental vitamin D. The elderly and those in pain are most often vitamin D deficient. One study found 83% of 299 low-back pain patients had vitamin D deficiency and another showed that 93% of 150 nonspecific pain patients had vitamin D deficiency. In the former study nearly all of those patients declared pain relief after three months of vitamin D supplementation.
Twenty minutes of sunlight on the arms, hands and face will produce about 400 IU of vitamin D. A day of summer sun in a bathing suit until the skin is pink will produce as much as 20,000 IU. A day in the tropics could easily result in 100,000 IU/day. Although the RDA is 200-700 IU (700 for elderly adults), many nutritionists believe that 1,000 to 5,000 IU per day is optimal. Not many foods contain vitamin D. The sun or supplements are best sources. An SPF8 sunscreen will block 95% of vitamin D synthesis.
Sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland, which stimulates a number of key master hormones as well as the master body clock, the SCN cells. These cells mark the passage of time for the body, regulating cellular and endocrine functions. A day without sunlight will leave these cells somewhat confused. Ever had that confused feeling after sleeping in late on a Saturday morning? Sunglasses can block those natural rays, lowering the pineal gland’s activities.
This all sounds great but doesn’t the sun cause skin cancer? Yes, but not quite that simple. It is primarily the sun’s UVA rays, especially intense during the mid-day, can produce free radicals amongst the skin cells. Sunburn of course can create a higher amount of free radicals. These free radicals, if not neutralized, can damage the skin cells,’ created genetic damage and premature aging.
However this process is nothing new to the body. The body is under constant attack by free radicals. We’re surrounded by free-radical-forming foods and chemicals. Genetic damage is an ongoing process, and mini-cancers are common on a daily basis. A healthy body will either neutralize the free radicals before they damage skin cells or dispose of any damaged cells before they cause further trouble.
The trick is the healthy body. A healthy body with a good diet will supply antioxidants to neutralize free radicals before they damage cells. Nutrients that neutralize free radicals produced by sun rays include vitamins C and E from fruits and grains; phytonutrients beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lycopene from veggies, carrots, and tomatoes; proanthocyanins from red berries and cherries; along with other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts. In addition to these antioxidant-rich foods, a good food-based multi-vitamin will provide an effective insurance policy.
A suppressed immune system is one of key indicator of skin cancer risk. This can result from increased toxin exposure as well as too few nutrients. Stress can also add to the overloaded immune system.
The bottom line: eat a healthy diet and don’t be afraid of the sun. Morning and evening sun exposure is best. Clothes or sunscreen can be used for mid-day or longer sun exposure. Avoid sunburning, and quickly apply aloe if the skin turns pink. If clothes are impossible, use a healthy sunscreen, preferably without PABA, cinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, phenylbenzimidazole and other chemical compounds.
Natural sunscreen lotions with vitamins and botanicals are now available. These added antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals from sun exposure. Now stop freaking out about the sun and have a good summer!
About the author
Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in natural health sciences and a DSc in integrative health. He has authored more than twenty books on natural health and numerous published health articles.