“Keep your face always towards the sunshine – and the shadows will fall behind you.” ~Walt Whitman
These days I find myself frequently longing for a morning to sleep in, but between the evil plans of the pets and the baby…well this doesn’t happen
much anymore. I often find myself laying in bed thinking about how much I hate 5:30 a.m. (especially on weekends), but at least grateful that the sun is up. Summer is my absolute favorite time of year. In light of the season upon us, I decided to take a moment to discuss getting the maximum benefits from what the sun has to offer.
One of the main reasons that the “flu season” comes up during the winter is because we are not getting enough sunshine. Or rather the vitamin D that comes with it. This directly affects our immune system. Vitamin D is necessary for optimal health, but there are very few food sources for this vital nutrient; so we evolved to absorb and use the suns UVB rays to produce it.
Unfortunately, modern society has us terrified of the sun. Most people spend all day inside with artificial light, and then when we do get outside, we layer on clothes or sunscreen to “protect” ourselves from the sun. Most of us know that vitamin D plays a role in keeping our bones and immune system healthy. We also now know that it plays a role in reducing the risk of things like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and depression (seasonal depression in particular). There are approximately 20,000 genes in the human genome and Vitamin D controls over 2,000 out of them. So this means a deficiency in Vitamin D3 affects over 10% of the genes in your body.
Let’s take a quick look at Vitamin D3’s links to our immune system and cancer. One of the major players in cancer cells getting out of control is apoptosis (normal or programmed cell death). Cancer cells are always present in your body, but they are kept in check by how well our immune system functions. When these cancer cells begin to evade apoptosis and don’t die, they grow out of control, causing the cancer diagnosis.
Enter Vitamin D3, the guy is in charge of the P53 gene which is in turn responsible for causing apoptosis (cell death). A deficiency in Vitamin D3 affects this normal cell death, helping to create cancer. In fact, most cells of our immune system, (including macrophages, dendritic cells, T-cells, etc…) have a vitamin D receptor on their surface. This means that these cells NEED vitamin D. In order for the immune system to function properly, keeping cancer cells in check, these immune cells have to find vitamin D3 first! A deficiency in Vitamin D3 lowers the immune system allowing cancer to get out of control. Unfortunately we humans have become significantly deficient in this nutrient, (which is actually a hormone) because we try to obtain it all from food and supplement sources.
The fact is, unless you are eating a ton of wild caught salmon or knocking back a couple of tablespoons of cod liver oil every day (which I wouldn’t recommend in this dose…), you are probably deficient in vitamin D. Are you for sure deficient? The only way to know for sure if to get your blood vitamin D levels tested. Personally, I am opting to save a buck, assume that I am deficient, and take advantage of proper supplements and the free sun exposure whenever possible. The trick is to be smart about your sun exposure and supplementation.
Humans are meant to get sunlight, not to get sunburned. We just have to learn to be smart about it! Gradually increase your exposure, and cover up if you feel like you are getting too much sun. The suns rays are designed to alert us when we are getting to much sun and certain sunscreens can turn off this alarm system, allowing us to bake under the deep penetrating UVA rays for longer than we normally would. Optimizing your diet will also in turn, help optimize your skin condition. Our sun protection is also meant to work from the inside, out. For more information on this topic, check this post from Mark Sisson. He gives great details on how your body can work to naturally protect you from sunburns.
A few tips for getting vitamin D:
- Supplementation – make sure you are taking D3, not D2, and research the source of your supplements! (Taking it along with fat will help your body put it to good use; so take it with fish oil and/or meals.) This is especially important in the winter, when exposure to natural sun is limited.
- Go for wild caught salmon, not farm raised. If buying canned, buy it with bones in it.
- Weather permitting, spend at least 10 minutes a day outdoors, letting the sun hit your skin. (Longer if you are darker complexioned)
- Read/research your info, question everything and never stop learning!
•Note: The information on this blog is for informational use only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical conditions or to take the place of your physician. Always consult the appropriate health care professional when you have health problems that you feel might require professional attention, or when adding supplementations, while taking existing prescriptions.