Our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to adapt and benefit from our natural environment. Plants have learned to make their own food from sunlight. As human beings, our bodies also produce essential nutrients in our skin, such as vitamin D, D3-sulfate (anti-inflammatory), and nitric oxide (lowers blood pressure) that help us stay vital and healthy. Light to the eyes, especially the blue wavelength, is important for maintaining normal sleep (circadian) cycles. Bright morning light is especially helpful and has been shown to be effective against insomnia, PMS and depression.
Even as the sun energizes us, prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause health problems for the skin, eyes and immune system. But small amounts of UVB rays are quite safe, and essential for optimal health. Without the benefits of vitamin D our bones become soft, and this is well known. Vitamin D acts as a hormone in the body increasing endorphins, serotonin, (mood enhancer), melatonin, and naturally relieves depression.
But there is an epidemic deficiency in vitamin D levels today, and it is a global health problem. What isn’t so well known is that the lack of vitamin D is indicated in so many illnesses, and the list is staggering: heart disease, hypertension, stroke, soft tissue cancers such as breast, ovary, colon, and prostate, headaches, poor concentration, insomnia, low thyroid function, autism, PMS, night sweats, leg cramps, irritability, nervousness, asthma, psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, auto-immune disorders, flu, fibromyalgia, fatigue, cramps, anemia, irritable bowels, inflammation, muscle weakness, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, joint pain, rickets, osteoporosis, arthritis, gout, infertility, low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, periodontal disease, tooth decay, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, bladder problems, multiple sclerosis and even schizophrenia.
There are at least 3,000 different genes that control every tissue in the body and they all have vitamin D cell receptors. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to play a role in almost every major disease (Dr. Mercola). Blood tests can show a normal vitamin D level, but blood varies daily and your body can still be suffering from a deficiency.
Recovery can be immediate when the deficiencies are corrected, and the skin is very efficient at producing what it needs quickly, with proper exposure. A single sitting can produce from 10,000 to 25,000 units in an adult male. Overdosing on oral vitamin D supplements can happen since it is an oil-soluble vitamin, but Vitamin D overdose is almost impossible when it is done through natural sun exposure. UVA rays will interfere with some of the production, and the body can store any excess in the liver. The body knows how to regulate the amount of production naturally.
The skin only makes vitamin D with UVB rays, and these rays are only available between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. There also needs to be oil on top of the skin, (Adele Davis) although this information is rarely posted and has been proven through clinical trials. Americans tend to shower every day and have a love affair with soap, stripping our skin of its natural oils. Our skins are too dry to manufacture the vitamin D we so desperately need. Then it also takes the body 24-48 hrs. to re-absorb the vitamin D it has produced. Showering afterwards only washes away those precious nutrients. Skin cancer was very rare 100 years ago and is still rare among certain populations. There is virtually no skin cancer in Africa. If you think it is just their darker skin protecting them, consider this — African-Americans who live in the US have very high rates of skin cancer!
It is important to go outside to get your rays since sunlight through a window does not work as glass absorbs UVB rays, but allows the damaging UVA rays to pass through. It has been suggested by researchers that moderate exposure (without sunscreen) is very beneficial, averaging 5-30 minutes twice weekly for optimal effects. Exposure is needed on at least 40% of exposed bare oily skin to produce all the natural vitamin D your body requires. Because extra is stored in the liver, that is why cod liver oil, or fatty fish is one of the best food sources of this vitamin. There are few foods that provide this essential nutrient, making the sun our primary source.
The level of safe sun exposure is still hotly debated. UVA is associated with wrinkles and cancer and penetrates more deeply into the skin, potentially damaging DNA. UVB is the burning ray, but in very moderate doses, it is also the ray that produces the hormonal vitamin D. There are studies that UVA rays actually destroy vitamin D, so you want to minimize this exposure — but part of this interaction is to limit the amount of D the body makes. Modern researchers are changing their opinions about the dangers of UVA rays as opposed to UVB. WHO, the world health organization, judges both rays to be potentially dangerous, but only when over-exposed.
The further north you go, the less UVB that is available year round, so do your homework! In Los Angeles, (latitude 34 degrees), there is UVB year round, but with a narrower hour range in winter. If you live higher than 34Ë latitude (away from the equator), there is no UVB during winter months. Availability of UVB also depends on the angle of the ray (50Ë), altitude, the presence of snow or water, smog, ozone concentration, and cloud cover, so it is variable.
With all the bad press about sun exposure, when you stop to think about it, the idea that the sun is completely bad for us just doesn’t make sense! Our species evolved under the sun, in the tropics and without houses or clothes that covered us from head to toe. The damaged ozone layer and increased skin cancer rates in Australia may be connected, for example, but we are not completely certain of this. The skin cancer rates in Norway increased by 350% for men and 440% for women during 1955-1984, but the ozone layer did not change during this period (Professor Johan Moan, British Journal of Cancer).
Skin cancer is more common in people who work indoors than outdoors, and it often forms on the body that gets the least sun exposure. Few studies have shown that sunscreen really prevents melanoma. Melanomas are highest in those parts of the world where sunscreen use is highest. A recent research showed that 97% of all Americans are contaminated with benzoprene, a UV absorber widely used in sunscreens. It is a powerful free radical generator (The Center for Disease Control).
We need sunlight on our skins to stay healthy, and there is a safe way to soak up sunrays. Cancer is more complicated than assuming that the sun alone is doing the damage. Cancer usually grows in people with reduced liver and immune function. Toxins and chemicals, pervasive in our modern lifestyle, assault and overwhelm our bodies. Vitamin D can boost our immune system and improve liver function, using liver Kupffer cells to gobble up free radicals or rogue cells. UVB rays have even been shown to help protect against melanoma for this reason.
Allow your skin to produce the melanin it needs slowly in the beginning, and protect yourself from overexposure. The goal is not to burn and you don’t need to tan in order to get vitamin D. If you have a fair complexion, limit your initial exposure to a few minutes, especially the closer to noon, or if in the middle of summer. If it is early or late in the season and you have a darker complexion, you could safely have 20 minutes on your first exposure.The darker the skin, the longer the time that is needed to produce vitamin D. Older skin also loses some of its ability to manufacture D. If you tan at all, this means that you are absorbing UVA rays that darken the skin. UVB pulls up melanin, but does not tan.
The skin around your face, eyes and hands is much thinner than other areas on your body and is a relatively small surface area so will not contribute much to vitamin D production. Protect these delicate areas of the body since they are at a much higher risk for premature wrinkling. You can use a sunblock in these areas or wear a hat that shades your face and eyes. Pay attention to how your body feels. Usually it feels great the first 10 minutes as stress melts away, and you will feel a point of relaxation and deep release. Once you feel too hot or uncomfortable, change positions or stop. If you are deeply pigmented, it is possible you may not even have to worry about the timing of your exposure. But the goal is not to burn the skin, since this damage is cumulative. If you do burn, use aloe vera, as it is loaded with glyconutrients that accelerate healing. To provide the needed oil, use natural coconut or olive oil to moisturize your skin as this will also benefit you metabolically. These oils have a SPF of about 7 or 8. The rest of the day, you can spend in the shade, wear clothes, and, if you still want to be in the open sun, use a non-toxic lotion with SPF-15 for uncovered skin (Dr. Mercola).
Coconut oil works by preventing free-radical reactions, which cause all the problems in overexposure. As you “season” your skin gradually, it will adjust to the sun with coconut oil as a protector. Most plant oils protect against UVB, the burning ray, but still allow the skin to make vitamin D. Only get the minutes you need as there is no protection against UVA with natural oils.
Native islanders have been using coconut oil for thousands of years, and believed that coconut oil on the skin was a nutrient. Coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and will detox the outer layers of your skin. It is a powerful anti-oxidant. As a sunscreen it blocks about 20% of burning UVB rays when applied and protects the skin in many other ways. Use it as a natural moisturizer and exfoliate regularly. Eating virgin coconut oil is also great for the health in many ways too (Jenni Madison). Vitamin D can only be absorbed into the blood in the presence of fat, so fat-free diets reduce available vitamin D. Unpasteurized whole milk provides vitamin D naturally. Pasteurized milk often will have vitamin D added.
I have tested this information by taking my beach blanket to the park once a week for 10-15 minutes of sun, front and back, (30 minutes max.) for 6 weeks. In that short period of time, my muscle strength has doubled, my chronic neck and shoulder pain has almost disappeared, and my energy level has skyrocketed! If you haven’t been in the sun for a while and are having any of the physical problems listed above, please try this test for yourself and see how you feel. Be conscious of the amazing free benefits that a small amount of sunshine can do for your body and soul!