Sunshine: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It
I look forward to sunshine in summer and think about it often during the cloudier winter months. For me, the light and warmth from sunshine evoke happiness and spur on an energetic feeling.
As a licensed naturopathic doctor, I know that basking in the glow of a warm sun hug can also benefit my health. With a practice based in sunny California, my patients are always asking me how much sun exposure is healthy for them. Understanding the ways that sunshine is good for us–and when and where we should use caution–can help us enjoy and absorb all the benefits of this wonderful summer weather while staying safe.
UVR, or ultraviolet radiation, is both beneficial and detrimental to our health. As some would say, “can’t live with it, can’t live without it.” Reaching us in the forms of UVA and UVB rays, combined UVR has the potential to cause dangerous skin cancers such as melanomas, and even alter our DNA after a sunburn. Excessive sun can damage collagen fibers, destroy Vitamin A, and even reactivate latent viruses through immunosuppression. People know that the sun is something to take seriously, and too much sun can cause serious health issues.
But, we still need it.
Health Benefits of Sunshine
In addition to boosting mood, UVR from the sun also increases circulation. As almost everyone knows, UV rays also help stimulate the production of Vitamin D. Without Vitamin D, we risk potentially disastrous deficiencies in phosphorus and calcium caused by a lack of ability to absorb these important minerals. And the benefits don’t stop there, UVR has been shown to have beneficial outcomes for the following conditions:
- Rickets – a softening of bone usually found in children without proper nutrition. Controlled UV exposure can stimulate much-needed Vitamin D.
- Lupus Vulgaris – often called a tuberculosis of the skin. This condition was first successfully treated with a UVB lamp by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Niels Finzen in 1903.
- Psoriasis – a dermatological condition affecting 7.5 million Americans. Symptoms are marked by sore and scaling skin. Many have found successful treatment through a combination of a drug called psoralen and controlled UVA radiation treatments.
- Vitiligo – A condition that became mainstream through celebrity Michael Jackson, this pigmentation problem affects the melanin in skin. Using the same treatment as psoriasis, this condition has been shown to respond to the combined drug and UVA treatment.
While there are definite health benefits to sun exposure, a little goes a long way. You may have heard discussion about how many professionals think a glass of wine a day has health benefits, but you would never hear them recommend a whole bottle. Sunshine is similar in that small doses will provide the best health benefit.
Current research shows that the health benefits of outdoor sun exposure can be achieved within about a minute, and burns and skin damage start within about 15 minutes. These benefits are also linked to the amount of skin exposed — more is better. To get the best benefit of natural sunshine, expose a large amount of skin to the sun for a very short time 2-3 times a week, then, make sure to cover up with protective clothing and sunscreen.
Medical use of UVR should also be highly limited under a controlled setting. Individual patients should make choices with their practitioners weighing the benefits of the treatment with increased risk for skin cancers.
Remember, when it comes to sun, a little goes a long way.
- Safe Sun Protection
Don’t feel like you need to stay indoors after you get your therapeutic dose of sunshine. There are many safe ways to stay outside and enjoy the sun.
- UV Protective Clothing
Consider UV-protective clothing like these designs from Coolibar. Made for all sorts of weather, you can choose from tops, bottoms, and hats that provide UPF +50 protection blocking 98% of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
Research supports the ability of antioxidants to provide photoprotection. The National Institutes of Health shared a study from as long ago as 1996, confirming the utility of anti-oxidants such as the combination of vitamins C and E in conjunction with a topical sunscreen to help maximize protection from harmful UV rays. More recent information published by the Naturopathic Doctor News & Review shows positive correlations for systemic protection against UV damage through the ingestion of green tea, as well as positive reports from the ingestion of leafy greens and lycopene.
- Mineral Sunscreen
Natural mineral sunblock can provide an additional way to protect yourself from excess UVR without exposure to toxic chemicals. Look for products that contain reflective minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and avoid products with chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. The chemicals are of concern to scientists, affecting everything from the human endocrine system to the health of coral reefs.
So enjoy your summer sunshine, but do so safely. Get healthy sun exposure in small doses, and protect yourself from long-term UVA and UVB radiation.
About the Author
Dr. Holly Lucille a.k.a. “Dr. Holly,” is a nationally recognized and licensed naturopathic doctor, an educator and a natural products consultant. She practices in Los Angeles, California, and serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Natural Medicine. In her “off time,” Dr. Holly enjoys being with her family, riding her motorcycle through the mountains and along the beaches of Los Angeles, as well as playing various instruments and touring with her band.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea
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