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Vitamin D, Sunlight, and Sunscreen - Sunlight

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:26pm

Sunlight.  It seems simple enough.  We use it to grow crops and to raise livestock.  We use it to regulate our sleep/wake cycles, and we also avoid it at all costs.  We have unfortunately been led to believe that sunlight equals skin cancer and premature aging and that is just not true.  Another falsity that has been indoctrinated into our lives is that ultimately the sun has very damaging effects.  This is just not true.  What is true is that burning and excessive sun exposure can lead to premature aging and certain cancers.  Prudent sun exposure can be radically effective at protecting against cancers, bone loss, immune suppression, and even mood.  Best of all its free!  That reason alone may have something to do with reason it has been vilified and shunned from our health conscious lifestyle.

Of course, when talking about sunlight being good for you, Vitamin D production is the major reason for that.  Vitamin D begins its creation cycle in the skin when exposed to UV-B radiation.  So how much sunlight is needed and how do we get it?  In tropical latitudes a fair skinned person can make all the Vitamin D he or she can handle in about 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight exposure on their bare arms and face at around midday.  That is much harder to accomplish as you move further away from the equator or if you cover more skin, have darker skin, or stay inside during daylight hours.  Obviously, persons in North America have at least one challenge, location.  Also, depending on skin tone, a person may have even more challenges toward obtaining adequate exposure.  Throughout North America, from about September to April, there is little opportunity to receive enough sunlight because of weather conditions, shortened daylight hours, and wearing heavier apparel.  Historically we have not worried about adequate sun exposure because the amount of Vitamin D needed to stave off rickets and other diseases was deemed to be extremely low in a healthy person.  We now know that a substantially higher blood level of D is useful and even needed for proper functioning of our bodies.  Sunlight also has the important affect of elevating our mood and making us feel better and more productive.  Whatever the chemical biological reasons for the more qualitative affects, we know that sunlight has a lot to do with our general well being.  After all, it feels good to have the morning sun on your face.

What we advocate is prudent exposure to bright sunlight.  Doing this periodically throughout the day is easier for most people to manage.  The best and safest exposure is morning time before 10 a.m., when UV-B is usually available and the more damaging effects of the midday sun can be avoided.  Long intense exposure is to be avoided and burning is absolutely detrimental and should be avoided at all costs by covering as much skin as possible.

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