Vitamin D And Sun Exposure
For decades, we've been warned about the dangers of sun exposure. Most of us diligently apply sunscreen before heading outdoors, confident that we are protecting ourselves from malignant melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. The experts have gotten their point across, maybe too well!
As it turns out, in our effort to avoid overexposure to the sun, we have left ourselves vulnerable to arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers, as well as other diseases. Exposure to the sun is our easiest and most common source of vitamin D, and although it is important to avoid sunburn, a little exposure to the sun each day can go a long way in protecting our health. Without sufficient vitamin D, experts fear that we may even see a resurgence of rickets in children, a disease that had become fairly rare in both Europe and the U.S.
In today's world, we not only slather on the sunscreen before spending time outside, but many of us spend very little time outdoors to begin with. Lengthy commutes to our offices have us trapped in our cars and once we arrive at work, we tend to remain indoors throughout much of the daylight hours. In urban areas, smog forms a layer that blocks some of the available sunlight, further limiting our exposure to the sun's rays.
Depending on the climate in your area, opportunity for sun exposure sufficient to help protect against both breast and prostate cancer may be hard to come by. In the UK, the suns rays are too weak for a good half of the year to allow absorption adequate enough to aid in the body's production of vitamin D. Even in the hot, sunny climates of the Middle East and Africa, people often choose long sleeved garments to protect themselves from sunburn. While they are decreasing the incidence of malignant melanoma, they are depriving themselves of a vital nutrient.
So what is the answer? We can get some vitamin D through food sources, such as milk, eggs, and fatty fish, but dietary sources alone typically fall far short of the mark. Supplements are widely available, but even with supplementation, the blood levels of vitamin D can remain depleted. We certainly do not want to return to the days of unprotected sunbathing -- we have concrete proof that allowing our skin to burn puts us at risk, yet it is clear that the vitamin D offered by sun exposure does provide some healthful benefits.
As with most things, moderation is your best bet; seeking a little bit of daily sunlight seems to be the optimal solution. While it is important to avoid unprotected exposure during the hours of 11 a.m. through 3 p.m. when the sun's rays are the most direct and therefore the most dangerous, it is prudent to spend 10-15 minutes each day soaking up the sun's rays. So rejoice! Take your breakfast tray outside and start your day by enjoying a bit of the morning sunshine.