Sunshine is important to humans. We evolved without fur. Our exposed skin is where the precious vitamin D is made. Vitamin D is important to our general health, and many people are deficient. So, the advice in recent years was to take vitamin D pills. My advice is to get enough sunshine to make your own vitamin D.
Beyond vitamin D, sunshine affects our bodies in complex and subtle ways. Sunshine is part of the circle of life. It does not make sense that sunshine in proper proportion is bad for us.
Sunshine and skin cancer
The amount of sunshine you get outside depends on where you live and changes by season. Americans have a range of ethnic backgrounds. In our source countries (where our ancestors came from), our skin pigment was balanced for the sunshine usually available. Transplanted to the U.S., we may get more or less sunshine than is ideal for our skin pigment. We may develop various health problems, including some that may be directly or indirectly linked to vitamin D.
For example, I’m of Irish and other northern European descent and have fair skin. I’m based in Chicago and Ireland. During summer, I go in the sun without sun block. Of course, I’m sensible about length of exposure. During winter, neither place allows me to get enough sunlight that converts into Vitamin D. So I use a special tanning bed with both kinds of rays that mimic the sun. (You need to ask whether a tanning salon’s equipment has both kinds of rays, and be careful about overexposure.) On the other hand, when I lived in San Diego, I was more careful. I also eat a non-inflamatory diet, which helped stop sunburn.
Most people have been made excessively afraid of skin cancer. Melanoma, the kind of skin cancer that kills you, comes from not enough sunlight and lack of Vitamin D. Another kind of cancer is prevented in part by sunblock. But sunblock contains nanoparticles that may contribute to another type of cancer.
A complex balance
Taking vitamin D pills bypasses the body’s regulatory systems that control how much vitamin D we have. The way vitamin D is produced in the body and balanced against other hormones and vitamins is complex and not fully understood. vitamin D is also a hormone. It goes into the nucleus of cells and tells them what to do. Vitamin D—along with vitamin A and the recently discovered vitamin K2—regulates and directs calcium. All are important (especially during pregnancy). All need to be present in adequate amounts, or the inadequacy of one causes a toxicity in the other.
Because of this complex balance, it’s important to let the body work its wisdom the way it evolved. If you make your own vitamin D from sunshine, the amount is more likely to be better balanced with other hormones. Indeed, after your body has accumulated enough vitamin D, further sunshine actually begins to deactivate some of the excess. Sunshine is not the only way to get vitamin D. Humans used to get a lot of vitamin D by eating lard and butter from animals raised in sunshine. This no longer works as well in the modern Western diet because most animals live in buildings.
Vitamin D is a hotbed of research. A lot of it aims to develop supplements. There is also a lot of hype around vitamin D. Watch out for more developments on this topic. Meanwhile, get your sunshine!
- Eat real food and go out in the sun in amounts right for your skin, season and latitude.
- Eat foods high in vitamin D, such as seafood and liver. Vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins don’t get absorbed into body unless you eat fat along with the vitamins.