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by Daisy Luther
What is the most overlooked source of a valuable nutrient?
The trouble is, we have been told to avoid sunlight as though we were vampires who might burst into flame if the rays touch our unprotected skin. People slather on a thick layer of sunscreen every single day. They avoid the midday sun. They stay indoors.
And there’s actually a national deficit of Vitamin D, as a result.
This is not to say that you should allow yourself to get burned to a crisp laying in the midday sun at the equator. Sunburns caused by UVA rays DO cause skin cancer. UVA rays are longer-reaching than UVB rays and can burn your skin even through glass. But this does not mean you should completely avoid sun at all times.
According to a report on US News, who spoke with Robyn Lucas, leader of a study published in the February 2008 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology and an epidemiologist at Australian National University. “Her finding: Far more lives are lost to diseases caused by a lack of sunlight than to those caused by too much.”
What health problems are associated with low levels of Vitamin D?
Here are just a few:
- Breast Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Heart Attacks
Beyond these issues, a high level of Vitamin D can help your immune system. Taking 10,000 IUs per day of vitamin D at the first sign of a cold or flu can help to shorten the duration of the illness. During a University of Copenhagen study, scientists discovered how Vitamin D helps to activate the immune response:
For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or deadly viruses, the cells must first be ‘triggered’ into action and ‘transform’ from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of a foreign pathogen.
The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate and they would remain dormant, ‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.
– “We have discovered that the first stage in the activation of a T cell involves vitamin D, explains Professor Carsten Geisler from the Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology. When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it has an immediate biochemical reaction and extends a signaling device or ‘antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it search for vitamin D. This means that the T cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease. If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilise.”
T cells that are successfully activated transform into one of two types of immune cell. They either become killer cells that will attack and destroy all cells carrying traces of a foreign pathogen or they become helper cells that assist the immune system in acquiring “memory”. The helper cells send messages to the immune system, passing on knowledge about the pathogen so that the immune system can recognize and remember it at their next encounter and launch a more efficient and enhanced immune response. T cells form part of the adaptive immune system, which means that they function by teaching the immune system to recognize and adapt to constantly changing threats.
How to safely get Vitamin D from the sun
The best way to get Vitamin D is to absorb it through your skin. Unless you live south of Atlanta, you won’t be able to do this in the winter – the sun doesn’t get high enough in the sky for the UVB rays to reach you. However, in the spring, summer and early fall, getting 10 minutes a day of direct sunlight if you are fair-skinned and up to 20 minutes if you are dark-skinned, is the best way to bump up your stores of Vitamin D. UVB rays do not penetrate glass – you must be outdoors to reap these benefits.
The goal is not to BURN your skin – that is what causes skin cancer. I’m not recommending that you bake on the beach for days at a time – I’m recommending healthy, moderate exposure that tans you lightly without burning you.
Next, during times that you can’t get the appropriate amounts of Vitamin D directly from the sun, you should eat foods that provide Vitamin D. Most milk is fortified with Vitamin D (keep in mind this is not as easily absorbed by your body as natural sources of Vitamin D). There are only a few foods that provide the nutrient naturally. They are:
- Egg Yolks
- Swiss Cheese
- Beef Liver
- Cod Liver Oil
Finally, add a Vitamin D supplement – the best by far is Vitamin D3. You can safely take 5000-6000 IUs per day, although the RDA is only 200 IUs per day. When you’re sick, increase your dose to 10,000 IUs for a brief period of time to aid your immune system.
Natural Sun Protection
If you are going to be out in the sun for long periods of time, then you’ll want to protect yourself against sunburns. Not only are they painful but they are a precursor to skin cancer.
Here’s how to prevent sunburns naturally:
- First, eat a diet high in foods that provide protection from the inside out: berries, spirulina, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, chlorella, dark chocolate, kiwi, almonds, and green tea.
- Second, wear protective clothing – shirts that cover your back and shoulders, brimmed hats that shield your ears, neck, and face, and shoes that cover the tops of your feet.
- Finally, make your own safer sunscreen. Mix equal parts zinc oxide (baby butt cream or zinc oxide powder) with coconut oil and put this on vulnerable areas like your face and shoulders if you are going to be in the sun for the day. You can find detailed instructions here.
Go get some sun.
Don’t avoid the sun – bask in it, safely, and boost your immune system and your happiness while lowering your risk of multiple diseases. Humans aren’t meant to huddle indoors in front of a computer screen – we’re meant to breathe in the fresh air and be active outdoors like our ancestors did.
Get out there and walk, swim, and garden – just be reasonable and take sensible precautions.