Sun Blocked: Vitamin D Deficiency and Insufficient Sun Exposure
Sun exposure has always been an inherent aspect of all life on Earth. 350 million years ago, vertebrates left the sea and began life on land. Vitamin D synthesis from sunlight allowed simple cell creatures to become more complex and develop skeletons. The ability of Vitamin D to boost immune function has been part of our DNA for over 60 million years. But over the last 100 years, we’ve not only drammatically reduced or eliminated our exposure to the sun: we’ve also become frightened of it. Consequently, we’re experiencing a huge increase in health problems related to Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is Necessary for Good Health
Vitamin D, technically, isn’t a vitamin, but a precursor hormone. It’s fat soluble and can be stored in the fat cells for future use. It plays a central role in metabolizing calcium. It improves the absorbtion of key nutrients such as Vitamins A and C. It strengthens immunity, cardiac and neurological functions and gene expression. It ‘switches on’ around 2,000 genes. It promotes elevated levels of the ‘feel good’ hormones such as beta-endorphins and seratonin, which is why our stress melts away when we lie in the sun. And Vitamin D regulates cell growth and renewal: in particular, it’s super important for the expression of the P53 gene.
The P53 Gene and Vitamin D Deficiency
The P53 gene oversees millions of daily cell replications. It informs them of when something has gone wrong and instructs them what to do about it. It plays an important role in apoptosis – the natural self-destruction of damaged cells before they become malignant. In the absence of Vitamin D, the P53 gene will ‘switch off’, which increases the risk of many forms of cancer.
Our indoor, sedentary lifestyles and our fear of the sun, which has everyone covering their bodies with sunblock, has resulted in a widespread problem of Vitamin D deficiency. Whilst excessive sun exposure may present a risk for skin cancer, there’s no evidence linking moderate sun exposure to any kind of skin cancer. On the contrary, low Vitamin D levels are directly associated with many forms of cancer, including breast, colorectal, prostrate and ovarian.
You and your children do not need a lot of sunscreen. Every homo sapiens has its own integrated protection against excess UVA solar radiation: melanin.
Melanin: Your Built-in Sunblock
Melanin determines the natural colouring of our skin, hair and eyes: the darker our complexion, the more melanin pigment we possess. Our pigmentation determines how much Vitamin D we synthesize. People with fair skin are able to synthesize Vitamin D much quicker than those with dark pigments, but need to take care not to burn. People with dark skin, on the other hand, need more time to manufacture optimal amounts of Vitamin D. This is an issue for those of African descent who are living far away from the countries of their ancestry. Afro-American men have a much greater risk of cancer mortality than white men.
Tanning, therefore, is the body’s self-regulation system as to how much ultraviolet light we absorb.
How Much Sun Exposure is Enough?
“Moderate Sun Exposure” means 10 to 20 minutes every day of direct sunlight on large areas of the body during the months of peak solar intensity. Sun bathing in a swimming costume is perfect. During spring and autumn the early morning and late afternoon sun isn’t strong enough to support Vitamin D production: the best times are between 10am and 3pm. Another good recommendation for knowing how long to spend in the sun is “half the time it takes to sustain a slight sunburn”.
When we can’t strip off, we’ll still receive benefits from exposing the arms and hands. It’s okay to protect the face and the neck: those areas don’t have a large enough surface area to make much of a difference anyway.
Establishing and maintaining a good tan from spring to autumn should get you through the darker months as Vitamin D is fat soluble and will be stored in the fat cells. But that depends on where you live. Latitudes far from the equator (eg Paris, France and the United States/Canadian border) only receive adequate sunlight for Vitamin D production for around 1/4 of the year. For anyone living in these latitudes, a mid-winter vacation in a tropical zone isn’t a bad idea!
Vitamin D, Food and Supplements
Certain foods also contain Vitamin D. Interestingly, when homo sapiens emigrated into the very northern regions of the planet, their diet, based on fat derived from oily fish and sea mammals, provided them with the Vitamin D necessary for them to thrive, even though they were receving little sun exposure. Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, cod liver oil and eggs provide between 200 – 1.000 I.U in a serving.
For those who aren’t able to spend much time in the sun, a Vitamin D supplement is essential – but nothing is comparable to the sun. A capsule or drops of Vitamin D may dispense 2000 I.U but just 10 – 20 minutes in the sun, exposing about half of the body surface, will provide 2.000 – 4.000 I.U. A 30 minute tanning session on a summer day can produce about 10,000 I.U. But in addition to the quantity, Vitamin D from the sun has a much better bioavailability than supplements. It’s better assimilated and lasts much longer.
Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of cancer by compromising the function of the P53 gene. It contributes to cardiovascular illness, cognitive impairment and renal difficulties. It compromises calcium metabolism and the absorbtion of key nutrients such as Vitamins A and C. Vitamin D deficiency weakens the immune system, neurological functions and gene expression.
We need sun, we need to be outdoors. And in order to be healthy, happy and vital human beings, we need to connect with not just with nature, but with our own nature. In the following post, we’ll look at how loving relationships, time spent in solitude and a flexible mind are all essential for longterm wellness.
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Woman Sunbathing by Pool Photo by Arturo Rivera on Unsplash | People reading in the sun Photo by Jingda Chen on Unsplash | Girls playing in the sunshine Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash | People on the Beach Photo by Ferran Feixas on Unsplash | Seal sunbathing Photo by Birger Strahl on Unsplash