We’ve heard it over and over again: Prolonged sun exposure is dangerous and should be avoided in order to prevent skin damage and skin cancer.
Yet we also know that adequate vitamin D intake is important for our health and our mental well-being, and that the sun is the single best source of its production in our bodies. So while the American Academy of Dermatology may assert that supplementation and the bare minimum of sun exposure is sufficient, their stance fails to take into account the wide array of important biological processes that sun exposure initiates aside from vitamin D production alone.
What Are The Risks And Benefits Of Sun Exposure?
It seems that most dermatologists have learned compartmentalized information; instead of looking at the benefits of vitamin D as a whole, they focus solely on preventing skin damage, largely ignoring the other side –the benefits of sun exposure.
Ironically, some research even shows that vitamin D can improve survival outcomes for those diagnosed with melanoma. Vitamin D is also essential for things like cognitive health, immune system function, and strong, healthy bones, to name a few.
A recent news report noted:
Fifteen to 20 minutes in sunlight a day helps your body produce the vitamin D it needs to absorb calcium and promote bone growth and keep the heart healthy. But sunscreen – important to protect against skin cancer – reduces the body’s ability to manufacture the vitamin.
Doctors can be torn on recommending time in the sun when too much and too little both have consequences.
Avoiding The Sun Can Increase Melanoma Risk, But Decreases All-Cause Mortality Risk
In a recent study conducted in Sweden, more than 25,500 Swedish women between the ages of 25 and 64 were followed and examined for 20 years. Detailed information about sun exposure habits and confounding factors were obtained and analyzed in a “completing risk” scenario.
What researchers found overall was that the women who got regular sun exposure had a lower all-cause mortality risk, which was associated with their increased vitamin D levels.
Women who spent a lot of time in the sun ended up having a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and non-cancer death compared to those who avoided the sun. Researchers noted that “nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking. Compared to the highest sun exposure group, life expectancy of avoiders of sun exposure was reduced by 0.6–2.1 years.”
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Research Surrounding Risk Of Melanoma
Research has shown that when sunlight hits your skin, nitric oxide is instantly released into your bloodstream — a substance which just happens to be a powerful blood pressure lowering compound.
This led researchers to determine that exposure to the sun can actually prolong your life by significantly reducing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. And a study conducted in 2013 offers an amazing statistic: For every one death from skin cancer in northern Europe, between 60 and 100 people die from stroke or heart disease relating to hypertension. I think knowing your risk of contracting a heart disease or having a stroke is about 80 times greater, on average, than dying of skin cancer really puts things into perspective.
While Vitamin D levels correlate with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, studies show that vitamin D supplements do not benefit blood pressure or increase nitric oxide.
Tips For Healthy Sunbathing
- Avoid getting sunburnt.
- Build up your tolerance to the sun by starting in small increments in the early spring and gradually increasing your time in the sun. This will help you avoid sunburn. Once you have built up your tolerance, aim for 15 to 30 minutes of unprotected exposure two to four times a week around midday to encourage sufficient vitamin D production.
- Expose as much skin as possible.
- Boost your “internal sunscreen” by eating antioxidant-rich foods and healthy fats. These foods can actually strengthen skin cells to protect against sun damage.
- If you are going to be spending more time in the sun, especially direct sunlight, try to cover up skin that is exposed. You can also try a natural sunscreen for more protection.
It is important to know that the sun is not the enemy; you should not fear the sun! After all, the sun provides life-force energy for everything that grows on the earth! Just be careful and follow the necessary precautions to prevent getting sunburnt. We all know how great it feels to have the sun shining on our faces and how much more cheerful we tend to be when the sun is out, and depriving ourselves of this feeling is neither healthy nor necessary.
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