After a long, cold winter, most people get excited about the bursts of warm sunlight that spring promises. Patio furniture comes out, barbeques are ignited, and the good times start to roll. But what most people don’t realize is that the sun is good for more than just a fun time at the beach.
When you’re exposed to sunlight, the UVB rays interact with the cholesterol in your skin, initiating the creation process of vitamin D3 in your kidneys and liver. Among other things, vitamin D3 promotes the absorption of calcium, leading to stronger teeth and bones. It’s also known to protect again immune system disorders and lower the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer. Research has even shown that sunlight can mitigate diabetes and reduce its risk.
Sunlight is associated with healthy habits like exercise and mental relaxation, which can be considered preventive health measures and it’s also known to help with pain management, stress and anxiety.
During the winter those who fail to obtain an adequate amount of sunlight might be at risk of depression. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight, which may interrupt your circadian rhythm (sleep and wake patterns). Those who suffer from SAD may feel sad, grumpy or anxious for no apparent reason, eat more carbohydrates, sleep more and experience low energy during daylight hours.
SAD can be treated through exposure to the sun, or, in cases where this isn’t possible, exposure to therapeutic lamps that mimic the sun’s UVB rays.
To combat the physical and mental health risks that come with a lack of sunlight, try to get 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight each day. This exposure must be direct because windows or other barriers block UVB rays, which are the ones required to produce vitamin D3. One of those other barriers, unfortunately, is sunscreen. According to experimental research, sunscreen can prevent up to 95 percent of vitamin D that could have been produced.
When balancing the risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer with the benefits of sun exposure, sunscreen is important to consider. It prevents UV rays from penetrating the skin, minimizing the risk of sunburn, and thus, skin cancer. As a compromise, you could always get your few minutes of sunlight and then put on the sunscreen for further exposure.
However, if you don’t want to take the risk of unprotected sun exposure, it’s recommended that you take a general vitamin D supplement, which can be found in many forms, such as pills and liquid drops. The amount of vitamin D intake varies from person to person, so consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking vitamin D supplements.
image: Arturo Sotillo (Creative Commons – BY-NC-SA)