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To Sun or Not to Sun:

The Benefits and Risks (Dr. Brazos Minshew)

Humans have existed on earth for many thousands of years. Until recently, we spent entire days in the sun. Now, physicians and scientists say that sun exposure is "bad" for us. Is that true? When did the sun become our enemy? How much is enough and what is the best way to maintain balance when it comes to sun exposure?

Sunlight: crucial for life, health and happiness!

  • Life – Sunlight is crucial for life because all life on earth depends (to a greater or lesser extent) upon photosynthesis. This is the process in green plants by which carbohydrates are synthesized from carbon dioxide and water using light as an energy source. Most forms of photosynthesis release oxygen as a byproduct.
  • Health – Sunlight is crucial for health because sunlight creates Vitamin D as it interacts with our skin.
  • Happiness – Sunlight is crucial for happiness because sunlight activates hormones in the brain that create a sense of euphoria.

Humans are diurnal: we are awake in the daytime and asleep at night. We are designed to live in sunlight. Our skin interacts with sunlight to create Vitamin D, an essential part of our metabolism.

Vitamin D interacts with our bones to make them hard; without Vitamin D we get soft, deformed bones (rickets). Later in life we are at risk for osteoporosis if we have low levels of Vitamin D. This means if your bones are tender, or if you have a low blood level of Vitamin D, you may need to increase your sun exposure (see the "Take Control of Your Health" section below). Vitamin D also interacts with our hormones to balance our blood sugar. And it activates our immune system to help protect against cancer. Vitamin D is good for us in many ways. So it stands to reason that sunlight would be good for us too, wouldn't it?

The Dark Side of light

Sunlight activates melanocytes. These are pigment-containing cells in our skin that help protect us from too much sun – and too much Vitamin D – by turning dark. Most people will "tan" or darken in the sun. If the sun exposure is prolonged or too intense for this melanocyte system, we will "burn."
Overexposure to the sun creates oxidative stress similar to radiation burns from exposure to nuclear material. That's because the sun itself is a huge nuclear furnace. A radiation burn from the sun can start a chain reaction in the melanocyte and other cells. This may lead to cancer in a year or two or in a decade or two. Oxidative stress from sunburn is insidious and dangerous.

Where's the balance?

The skyrocketing incidence of diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers definitely says that we are not getting enough Vitamin D. And the increasing incidence of insomnia and seasonal depression says that we are not getting enough early morning sun.
We need more sunlight. But how do we make it safe?

Safe sun exposure

First, it's important to recognize both the need for sun and the need for caution. Plan your sun exposure so that you maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks. For instance, get your sunlight early in the day. Early morning sunlight does not have the high ultraviolet rays that
midday sun does. So, take a 20-minute walk in the early part of the day with your skin exposed to sunlight. This will give you the benefits without the risks of over exposure.

Alternately, take a 20-minute walk in the late afternoon with your skin exposed to sunlight. There are fewer UV rays in the late afternoon than at
midday. So either early morning or late afternoon sun will provide you with many of the same benefits, while decreasing your risk of over exposure.
As for
midday sun, never expose your skin to it for long periods of time. Wear clothing that covers most of your skin and wear a hat that provides shade for your face and ears.

Nutrients for healthy skin

Certain nutrients work well to protect against sun damage. Essential fatty acids interact with Vitamin D in your skin to help protect against harmful radiation. Vitamin C helps quench smoldering fires of oxidative stress once they have begun. Antioxidants, such as green tea and those found in berries, help protect against DNA damage from radiation. All these are excellent nutrients for dealing with the stress of too much sun.

So, is the sun our enemy? It can be if we are not careful! For most of us, however, sunlight may be the difference between good and poor health; or even between life and death! Get your sunlight, but be careful – too much of a good thing can cause trouble.

Take Control of Your Health 

  • Spend 20 minutes daily in the sunshine with 40% of your skin surface exposed
  • Get your sun exposure early in the day or in late afternoon
  • If you can't avoid midday sun exposure:
    • Wear long pants and long sleeves
    • Wear a hat that provides shade for your face/ears
    • Wear sunscreen to protect your exposed skin
    • Never allow yourself to sunburn
  • Take essential fatty acids, Vitamin C and antioxidants for maximum protection!
  • Eat foods rich in Vitamin D:

·         Cod liver oil

·         Fortified milk

·         Salmon, mackerel and sardines

·         Egg yolks

·         Beef liver


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