One of the big changes brought about by modern day life is being indoors most of the time. A century ago, we spent far more time in the outdoors, as much of our work was as farmers or builders. Walking was our main mode of transportation.
Today, we go from the home to the car to the office and then home again. Whether locked down in front of our computers or learning in Yeshiva, we don’t get outside much during the day. To make matters worse, not every section of every office has windows bringing the sunlight into the office. But getting sunlight is a very big player in our overall health.
We all know that sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D. It is estimated that over 50% of both the adult and child populations are deficient in Vitamin D. The recommended daily dosage of Vitamin D currently stands at 200-600 IU (International Units) per day. However, the Canadian Cancer Society says we should be getting at least 1,000 IU per day. Many researchers, including Dr. Bruce Hollis, Professor of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina recommends 2,000 IU per day. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that having adequate amounts of Vitamin D in our bodies prevents many cancers, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Some research connects low levels of Vitamin D with a higher risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis. Vitamin D aids in bone and tooth formation and also helps maintain heart action and proper functioning of the nervous system. But Vitamin D is only one of the great benefits the sun gives us.
It Helps you Sleep This may seem like an oxymoron. Sunshine helps you sleep? It would seem that the opposite is true. After all, don’t we close the curtains and darken a room when we want to sleep better? But, when people are exposed to sunlight or even very bright artificial light in the morning, our nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and we enter into sleep more easily at night.
This melatonin is like the pacemaker for our circadian rhythms-which is our internal clock for knowing the difference in a 24-hour cycle between day and night. When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, they enter into sleep more easily at night. In addition, sunlight helps us produce more of the hormone serotonin, which is one the “feel good” hormones. Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and a calm, yet focused, mental outlook. Indeed, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has been linked with low serotonin levels during the day as well as with a phase delay in nighttime melatonin production. SAD is what we commonly call winter blues or winter depression and is considered a mood disorder.
Other Benefits from Sunlight Although we tend to think that the benefits from sunshine are all Vitamin D-related there is much more that isn’t. UVA and UVB rays help prevent autoimmune disease. Sunshine helps limit oxidative DNA damage, thus reducing melanoma cancer risk, as reported in the May 15, 2005 edition of Cancer Research. This is the very cancer that we’ve been told is caused primarily by overexposure to the sun. Obviously a happy medium is needed. And if you are looking for a natural opiate, then you are looking for more endorphins. Yes, sunlight when absorbed into the skin helps give us more of those too—so it can help you be happy!
How Much? Contrary to years of warnings to stay out of the sun, more recent research indicates that getting a little too much sunshine is better than not getting enough and that in fact, one’s risk of cancer increases from not getting enough sunshine. We now know that getting as little as 20 minutes of natural sunlight 3 or 4 times a week – WITHOUT SUNSCREEN – can play a major role in helping to prevent cancer and other diseases. This doesn’t mean you should stay in the sun exposed for long periods of time. That also is not healthy. Although I am not a big fan of supplementation, this is one area where if you are deficient in Vitamin D, it should be strongly considered. Also in terms of getting Vitamin D from the sun, the following are all factors:
- The latitude where you live. At higher latitudes, the amount of vitamin D–producing UVB light reaching the earth’s surface decreases in the winter because of the low angle of the sun. In Boston, for example, little if any of the vitamin is produced in people’s skin tissue from November through February.
- Your use of sunscreen — in theory. Sunscreen prevents sunburn by blocking UVB light, so theoretically, sunscreen use lowers vitamin D levels. But as a practical matter, very few people put on enough sunscreen to block all UVB light, or they use sunscreen irregularly, so sunscreen’s effects on our vitamin D levels might not be that important. An Australian study that’s often cited showed no difference in Vitamin D between adults randomly assigned to use sunscreen one summer and those assigned a placebo cream./li>
- The color of your skin. Melanin is the substance in skin that makes it dark. It “competes” for UVB with the substance in the skin that kick-starts the body’s vitamin D production. As a result, dark-skinned people tend to require more UVB exposure than light-skinned people to generate the same amount of vitamin D./li>
- The temperature of your skin. Warm skin is a more efficient producer of vitamin D than cool skin. So, on a sunny, hot summer day, you’ll make more vitamin D than on a cool one./li>
- Your weight. Fat tissue sops up vitamin D, so it’s been proposed that it might be a vitamin D rainy-day fund: a source of the vitamin when intake is low or production is reduced. But studies have also shown that being obese is correlated with low Vitamin D levels and that being overweight may affect the bioavailability of Vitamin D./li>
- The health of your stomach. The Vitamin D that is consumed in food or as a supplement is absorbed in the part of the small intestine immediately downstream from the stomach. Stomach juices, pancreatic secretions, bile from the liver, the integrity of the wall of the intestine — these all influence the amount of the vitamin is absorbed. Therefore, conditions that affect the gut and digestion, like Celiac Disease, Chronic Pancreatitis, Crohn’s Disease and Cystic Fibrosis, can reduce Vitamin D absorption./li>
- The health of your liver and kidneys. Some types of liver disease can reduce absorption of Vitamin D, as the ailing liver isn’t producing normal amounts of bile. With other types, steps essential to Vitamin D metabolism can’t occur — or occur incompletely. Levels of the bioactive form of Vitamin D tend to track with the health of the kidneys, so in someone with kidney disease, bioactive Vitamin D levels decrease as the disease gets worse, and in end-stage kidney disease, the level is undetectable./li>
Light was Hashem’s first creation in the way of the sun and the moon. He not only lit up His world, but included natural healing powers as well. Find a way to be outdoors. It is imperative to both your physical health and mental well-being. A little bit of sunshine can go a long way and “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your lives.”