You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine
Summer is finally here, and after a long fall and winter hibernation, we all crave the warmth and light that our wonderful sun provides. Unless you’re nocturnal and related to Count Dracula, you cannot survive without sunlight. Sunlight provides plants with the energy they need to give us oxygen and food and provides many other well-researched health benefits.
Health Benefits of Sunlight
The sun emits 3 types of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation; UVA, UVB and UVC. The ozone layer in the atmosphere filters out UVC completely so we're only exposed to UVA and UVB.
- UVB radiation from sunlight allows us to make
- Vitamin D
- Important for immunity, cancer prevention, bone, mental health, autoimmune disorders, etc.
- 5 to 30 min of unprotected skin exposure at least three times a week was considered sufficient to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.
- A pain-relieving and stress-reducing hormone called Beta-endorphin
- UVA radiation
- Increases nitric oxide production in the skin, which lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow and heart rate and supports cardiovascular health.i, ii
- Triggers the release of serotonin – the so-called “feel good” chemical
- Reduces the risk of seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD), anxiety & depression.iii
- Improves sleep by regulating circadian rhythms & increasing melatonin production
- May increase longevity – a study found those with more sun exposure lived 6 months to 2 years longer than those with less exposure.iv
- Helps with a variety of skin conditions; psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo
- Reduced risk of nearsightedness (myopia)v
You Can Have Too Much of A Good Thing
As wonderful as sunlight can be, excessive exposure can be harmful. One obvious risk is sunburn. Long periods of unprotected sun exposure can damage the skin, cause premature skin ageing and potentially skin cancer.
Reduce Your Risk of Skin Damage from Sunlight
There are several strategies one can use to reduce the risk of sunburn:
- Reduce Exposure
- Limit your exposure to sunlight during the most intense hours, 10 am to 2 pm.
- Use A Natural Sunscreen
- Many sunscreens contain undesirable chemicals.vi You can find a list of safer options on the Environmental Working Group website.
- As a rule of thumb, try getting 5 to 30 minutes of sunlight before applying sunscreens. Earlier studies suggest that sunscreens could dramatically lower vitamin D production.vii More recent research has shown that’s not the case.viii It appears that sunscreens still allow for healthy levels of vitamin D production.
- Consume Antioxidant-Rich Foods and Beverages
- UV radiation can harm the skin by producing chemicals known as Reactive Oxygen Species (aka ROS)
- There are several foods that have been shown in studies to protect us from the sun.ix, x, xi, xii, xiii These include blueberries, pomegranate, mulberries, cranberries, strawberries, blackberry, lemons, rosemary, parsley, peppers, tomatoes, onions, artichoke, mushrooms (like reishi & golden chanterelle), olive oil, green and chamomile tea, red wine, and coffee to name a few.
- Use Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
- Reduce the inflammation that results from UV radiation. xiv, xv
- Anti-inflammatory foods include omega-3 fats (flax, fish, chia, walnuts), Turmeric (curcumin), Ginger, Berries (rich in anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins), Fermented Foods (e.g., sauerkraut - probiotics provide systemic anti-inflammatory benefits).
Like almost all things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad. Be sure to enjoy the beautiful sunlight we get this time of the year but don’t overindulge.
i J Invest Dermatol. 2014 Jul;134(7):1791-1794.
ii Sci Rep. 2017 Sep 11;7(1):11105.
iii J Affect Disord. 2016 Nov 15;205:234-238.
iv J Intern Med 2014; 276: 77– 86
v JAMA Ophthalmol. 2017;135(1):47-53.
vii Br J Dermatol. 2012 Aug;167(2):391-5.
viii Br J Dermatol. 2019 Nov;181(5):907-915.
ix Journal of Functional Foods. 2017;30(Complete):108-118
x Mini Rev Med Chem. 2011 Dec;11(14):1200-15. PMC3288507.
xi Food Funct. 2014 Sep;5(9):1994-2003.
xii Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 11;7(1):5106.
xiii Sci Food Agric. 2016 Jul;96(9):2952-62.
xiv Cell Death Dis 8, e3148 (2017).
xv CNS Neurosci Ther. 2016 Feb; 22(2): 118–126.
xvi Front. Nutr., 08 November 2017
Disclaimer: The information in this article has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek competent medical advice before making any significant changes to your normal eating pattern.