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Vitamin Supplements: When To Use The Sun Instead

Before reaching for your vitamin supplements, take a moment to think about how we should be getting these vitamins into our bodies. It’s likely daily pills is not the answer.

Due to location and/or fear of potential harm from the sun, many people are low in vitamin D cause by lack of sunlight. This is because our skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to ultraviolet B rays in sunshine. We have evolved to work this way, not to swallow vitamin supplements in the form of pills.

Imagine a world without sunshine. There would be no warmth, no green plants growing, and no vitamin D. Fortunately we’re not living post-apocalypse, and the health benefits are right there for the taking.

Chris getting plenty of vitamin D, no need for vitamin supplements in this case

Since the early twentieth century, scientific studies have shown that vitamin D plays a vital role for the development and maintenance of our skeletal system, throughout our lives.

In recent decades vitamin D receptors have been discovered in almost every tissue of the body, suggesting direct links with the cardiovascular, immunological, reproductive, cognitive and metabolic systems.

From an evolutionary biology point of view, vitamin D’s importance to human health is not surprising. Our ancestors - every man, woman and child, spent a lot of time outdoors. Sunshine is part of our evolutionary make-up.

We can get small vitamin D amounts by eating oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.), cod liver oil, butter oil, and eggs. Many people now also take vitamin supplements as their preferred source.

But by far the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure. I am going to say this again and again.

Yes, I want you to get outside and enjoy it.

Photo by Christopher Bertram. Oily fish like these herring provide a dietary source of vitamin D, which is better than vitamin supplements, but sunshine is by far the best option.

In today’s world a lot of people don’t regularly expose their bodies to direct sunshine. There are many reasons for this: cultural (wearing clothing in public), practical (working in an office), habitual (relaxing with TV), learned (using sunscreen, which blocks UVB rays), and seasonal (staying indoors when it’s cold).

Those living in the northern hemisphere, more than 35 or 40 degrees above the equator, will know exactly what I mean by the ‘vitamin D winter’. Due to seasonal lack of daylight, chances are you’re deficient.

Check a map, folks – that includes the USA north of the sunshine states, Canada, the UK, Scandinavia, most of Europe and Eastern Europe, Russia, parts of the Middle East and half of China.

Image by David Monniaux, modified by Liana Ashenden. The northern hemisphere ‘vitamin D winter’.

When was the last time you felt sunshine on your bare skin?

Let’s be clear – I’m not suggesting you take risks. Too much UVB radiation can lead to cataracts, skin damage, and basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer. But no exposure to UVB can lead to other health problems. Don’t avoid sunshine, just be smart about it.

What Is It And Why Is It Included In Vitamin Supplements?

Vitamin D is called a ‘vitamin’ for historical reasons, but it’s really a pro-hormone (a substance that can be converted into a hormone). Unlike the other vitamins necessary for growth and health, we don’t need vitamin D via a dietary source, nor do we need vitamin supplements that contain it (in most cases), because our bodies can make it through direct sun exposure.

The type we make in our skin and eat in our diet is vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. It’s a fat-soluble steroid and biologically inert in this form.

In the liver, cholecalciferol is converted to calcidiol, the body’s main form of storage for vitamin D. Calcidiol is a pre-hormone (a secreted hormone precursor) and low levels of it in your blood give a good indication you have a vitamin D deficiency. If you have a blood test, this is what they will measure.

Enzymes in your kidneys and other tissues convert the storage form, calcidiol, into the biologically active hormone, calcitriol.

Calcitriol is a potent steroid hormone with many biological actions. Its half-life is about two weeks in blood and two months in fat tissue.

The active form of vitamin D mediates its effects through a vitamin D receptor in cell nuclei. When calcitriol binds to the receptor, it regulates the expression of certain genes.

The nuclear vitamin D receptor is expressed in most tissues and cells in your body (in fact, cells without it are the exception rather than the rule) and scientists estimate that calcitriol or the lack of it can affect the expression of hundreds of different genes.

Image by Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformatics Institute Deutsch. Diagram of the vitamin D receptor found in cells throughout our bodies

Vitamin D is now regarded as an important signalling molecule, hence its inclusion in most vitamin supplements. It has both direct and indirect biological effects on the body on mineral homeostasis, bone mineral density, cell differentiation and proliferation, cell death (apoptosis), hormone production, and the immune response.

Nearly every cell and tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors. You need vitamin D to keep your bones strong and your immune system healthy.

What Are The Health Benefits?

Healthy bones

Most research and the best known benefits around vitamin D are linked to the health of your skeletal system.

Vitamin D was first discovered 90 years ago through the study of rickets, a disorder in babies and children characterised by weakening and deformity of the bones.

Both rickets and its adult form osteomalacia are caused by deficiences in vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate.

Don’t start reaching for those vitamin supplements just yet.

Photo by By Mrich at en.wikipedia. 5 X-ray showing leg bone deformities in a child with rickets

Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to osteoporosis. Randomised clinical trials show that supplementation increases bone mineral density and reduces the risk of falls and fractures among the elderly.

The effects of these trials depend on baseline calcium intake, baseline vitamin D status (supplementation is more effective in people who have vitamin D deficiency to begin with), age, residence and gender (postmenopausal women appear to benefit more).

Calcitriol plays a key role in calcium and phosphate homeostasis. Without vitamin D, small intestine cells small intestine would absorb only 10-15% of dietary calcium and 60% of phosphorus for transport into circulation.

When it comes to the kidneys, calcitriol stimulates the reabsorption of calcium from the glomerular filtrate. Calcitriol stimulates the maturation of bone cells.

A low calcium intake heightens the effects of vitamin D deficiency; a high calcium intake increases vitamin D’s serum half-life, but may have other health consequences, such as kidney stones and, potentially, increased cardiovascular risk. For this reason, you may see both combined in vitamin supplements.

Putting it another way, vitamin D can be considered a set of traffic lights that directs your body to use calcium efficiently for bone mineralization. Without sufficient vitamin D, it is a waste of time (and potentially dangerous) just adding more and more calcium to the mix. Go tell your Doctor.

High quality randomized controlled studies of the effect of vitamin D on skeletal health are lacking in babies, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, premenopausal women, and different racial and ethnic groups.

Non-bone health outcomes

The vitamin D receptor is expressed in cells in almost every tissue of the body. This widespread distribution and function as a signalling molecule and hormone strongly suggest that it plays an important role for the body as a whole, not only in skeletal health.

The active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, has stimulatory and inhibitory effects on cell proliferation and differentiation, the production of insulin, renin, parathyroid hormone, oestrogen, and testosterone, and the immune response.

That means pay special attention if you care about your:

  • Sex hormones

  • Blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance

  • Thyroid function and health

  • Blood pressure

  • Immunity from disease

It also prompts its own destruction by up-regulating the expression of enzymes that convert calcidiol and calcitriol into inactive forms.

Observational and longitudinal cohort studies show correlations between low vitamin D levels and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, breast, prostate, and colon cancer, stroke, obesity, infection, metabolic disorders (including inflammation and diabetes), autoimmune disorders, and cognitive disorders.

However, the evidence from these studies is inconsistent and inconclusive at this stage. Correlation does not equal causation, something I really, really wish the media, your local MD, and Dr Oz would stop and think about, but I digress.

As yet there is limited direct scientific evidence that having low vitamin D blood serum levels leads to these conditions, or that having sufficient vitamin D levels protects against them.

Large, well designed, randomized controlled trials are needed, as well as studies that scrutinise the role of confounding factors.

The scientific literature may not yet provide the full story on vitamin D’s role in non-bone health outcomes, but optimising our levels seems very, very sensible based on the evidence so far.

I do NOT think it is an accident that incidence of colds, the flu, and of upper respiratory tract infections are VASTLY lower in summer than in winter, for starters.

Which of course, just begs the next question…

The Optimum Vitamin D And Dosage With Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin D levels are determined by measuring the blood serum concentration of calcidiol, or 25(OH)D. The optimum level for vitamin D for health is controversial, but it would appear that approximately 35ng/ml provides peak bone mineral density and protects against fractures and falls.

The Endocrine Society and Institute of Medicine define critical deficiency as < 20ng/ml. The main cause of deficiency is inadequate exposure of the skin to sunlight, and it is very common.

Is it possible to have too much vitamin D? Yes, although toxicity from hypervitaminosis D is very rare, and people are far more likely to be at risk from vitamin D deficiency.

Sun exposure doesn’t lead to overdose because the body has its own defence mechanisms – burning and the pigment melanin prevent the skin from producing excessive vitamin D.

Dietary sources and vitamin supplements in sensible doses are also safe. You are only at risk of overdosing on vitamin D with crazy mega-doses in vitamin supplements (40,000-100,000 IU per day for several months), causing an influx of calcium.

Symptoms of hypercalcemia of the blood include poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, weakness, frequent urination, thirst, dizziness or confusion, and kidney damage. It is treated by stopping vitamin D supplements and restricting calcium intake, and in severe cases corticosteroids or bisphosphonates are prescribed to reduce blood calcium levels.

Since vitamin D is stored in fat tissue, the effects of toxicity may last for months despite stopping external sources of vitamin D.

It should also be added that if you are obese, you may need more Vitamin D, since your fat tissue will store it (steal it?). In this case, vitamin supplements should be considered.

What is your vitamin D profile?

Your vitamin D levels depend on your environment, sun exposure, diet, and who you are:

  • Season, latitude, altitude, weather, time of day, atmospheric filters, and reflective surfaces determine how much UVB the sunlight around you contains.

  • Time spent enjoying direct sunlight, amount of clothing, and sunscreen affect your skin’s exposure to UVB and therefore your vitamin D production.

  • Diet and vitamin supplements affect your vitamin D levels and effectiveness.

  • Your skin colour, age, reproductive status, and health have an impact on your vitamin D levels.

Look at the following chart. Which my wonderful sister Liana was so nice to draw and build out.

How many of the factors associated with low vitamin D production apply to you? What is your personal profile?

The more items down the left that apply to you, the more likely you are to be at risk of deficiency.

 

Variable Description
Atmosphere
  • The Earth’s atmosphere filters out UVB. When the sun is low in the sky, sunlight passes through more of the atmosphere before it reaches you. As a result, your skin receives less UVB and you make less vitamin D3.

  • Time of day. Exposing your skin during the middle half of the day (i.e. close to solar noon) produces more vitamin D3 (but pale skin is more at risk of burning at this time).

  • Season. There is less UVB in sunlight in winter.

  • Latitude. The further away from the equator you are, the longer the ‘vitamin D winter’ lasts, and the less vitamin D you can produce.  People living in the band of tropics within 35 degrees north or south of the equator can produce vitamin D all year.

  • Altitude. People living at high altitude have less atmosphere above them and are exposed to more UVB than people living at sea level.

UVB filters
  • The following filter out UVB: heavy clouds, ozone, air pollution, glass windows, sunscreen, and clothing.

Reflective surfaces
  • Surfaces that reflect sunlight can increase your overall UV exposure. Fresh snow reflects up to 80% of UV radiation, sea foam reflects 25%, dry beach sand reflects 15%, and grass, soil and water reflect less than 10%.

Skin exposure
  • Exposing your whole body to sunlight massively increases vitamin D production. The torso is more effective than the hands and face.

  • How much time you spend outdoors, and in sun or shade, impacts on UVB exposure.

  • Do you cover up with clothing or headgear when outside? Do you wear sunscreen or cosmetics containing sunscreen? Factor 30 reduces your skin’s vitamin D synthesis by more than 95%.

Diet / vitamin supplements
  • Dietary sources  include salmon, mackerel, herring, cod liver oil, butter oil, eggs, and artificially fortified foods.

  • Fat consumption is important, since vitamin D is fat-soluble and made from cholesterol.

  • Vitamin D3 supplements can be derived from lanolin, cod liver oil extract, or synthesised from 7-dehydrocholesterol.

  • Vitamin D2 supplements can be derived from UV irradiation of the yeast sterol ergosterol or from sun exposed mushrooms.

  • Vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium and phosphorus levels affect the effectiveness of vitamin D in your body.

Skin colour
  • The skin’s pigment, melanin, is the body’s natural protection against DNA damage and vitamin D toxicity from too much sun exposure.

  • Those with pale skin make vitamin D quickly when exposed to the sun, but are more at risk of sunburn.

  • Those with dark skin may take 3-6 times longer to make vitamin D, and may be vitamin D deficient.

Age
  • Babies, children, and elderly people produce less vitamin D.

  • You produce more vitamin D between the ages of 20 and 60.

Health conditions / medication
  • People with the following health conditions may be vitamin D deficient and need MORE: obesity, fat malabsorption syndromes, thyroid disorders, chronic inflammation, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, diabetes, and some types of liver and kidney disease.

  • People who have recently spent a long period in hospital may be deficient due to a lack of sun exposure.

  • People taking the following medications may be at risk of deficiency: anticonvulsants, barbiturates, antacids, replacement hormones, corticosteroids, anticoagulants, blood thinners, and some anti-HIV medications.

How Do I Know If I Need Vitamin Supplements? 

By now you should have a rough idea of your own vitamin D profile using the images and chart above. For example, if you have dark skin and you’re living far north of the equator, chances are you’re deficient.

Obese and gastrointestinal problems such as leaky gut affect your ability to absorb dietary nutrients, or any thyroid or autoimmune issue, it is likely you need more vitamin D.

Eat oily fish and eggs, which contain vitamin D3.

Consider quality vitamin supplements, such as cod liver oil or vitamin D3+K2.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: those on medication should seek their doctor’s medical opinion before taking any supplement.

How much should I take? Many studies show a u-shaped dose response curve with vitamin D supplementation.

This means that, in some situations, very high vitamin D doses may actually have the opposite (negative) effect of low doses.

A meta-regression of trials published over a 25 year period showed that, without calcium co-supplementation, the average increase in serum calcidiol concentrations was 0.78 ng/ml per mcg of vitamin D supplement per day. 1mcg of vitamin D supplement is equivalent to 40 IU.

Get blood tests to check your progress if you are not getting the bulk of your vitamin D from direct sun exposure and are using vitamin supplements instead.

I ABSOLUTELY recommend the sun. For all of you who are not getting at least 5 days a week of a MINIMUM of 10-30 minutes of direct sun exposure, then I recommend doses of 1000-5000 IU daily, but only on the days that you are not out in direct sun.

  • 5 days a week or more of direct sun – you don’t need any supplementation (consider getting levels checked if you get sick a lot or feel less than perky, or have three or more of the left hand columns apply to you from the above chart, as you may not be getting enough sun).
  • 3 – 4 days a week of 10-30 minutes plus of direct sun – unless you are on the equator or enjoying long exposure on your sun days, take vitamin D3 at a dose of 1000-2000 IU on the days you are not in sunshine, or 4000-5000IU every second day.
  • 1 – 2 days a week of sun, or less – take 3000-5000 IU of Vitamin D3 on the days that you are not exposed to sunlight.
  • Blood tests – If you are in that last low/no sun camp, then at 4 and 12 weeks of supplementation, I recommend you go and get measured with a simple blood test. If your levels are below 35ng/ml, keep on doing what you are doing and retest at 12 weeks. Consider that you need both a healthy gut and adequate fat and cholesterol in your diet to absorb and make vitamin D3. Again retest at 12 weeks. If it’s above 50ng/ml, stop vitamin D supplementation altogether. If it’s are between 35 and 50ng/ml, then to my mind, you are on the money. If you’re of Northern European extraction with pale skin, then some evidence suggests that the lower end, 20-35ng/ml, may be ideal. If you’re of equatorial extraction with darker skin, then aim for the higher level.

Whatever your situation, if your levels are even remotely low: GET MORE SUN.

Please note, any type of GI issue raises the risk of having very poor absorption of Vitamin D3 and you will need a higher intake.

Note: Some of you may have seen vitamin D2 in shops. This type is not found naturally in the human body and is less effective at raising serum calcidiol concentrations. It is derived from UV radiation of yeast and certain mushrooms. I recommend you skip the vitamin supplements for D2.

By far the BEST way to rebuild your vitamin D levels is by exposing your skin to direct sunlight in a safe way.

In winter far away from the equator, try to expose your skin as much as possible to sunlight at solar noon each day. Get out of the office at lunch time, go for walks in sunlight. Your risk of skin damage is low at this time of year. Remember that snow reflects sunlight and can increase UVB levels.

In summer, and especially if your skin is pale, build up gradually with short amounts of time exposed to sunshine. Listen to your body’s natural alarm system and don’t allow yourself or your children to get burned. Move into the shade, stay out of the midday sun (10am-2pm), and cover up with sunhats and clothing rather than sunscreen. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block out UV rays.

People with fair, freckly skin and red hair need to take extreme care in summer sun. Limit your exposure to a few minutes early morning or late afternoon and cover up at other times. You produce a different kind of melanin, called pheomelanin, which is less effective than eumelanin at protecting your skin from UV damage and may increase your risk of skin cancer.

If you have fair skin and expose your whole body to summer sunshine without clothing or sunscreen, you can make 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D in 10-30 minutes. If you have dark skin and do the same, you will need to spend much longer in sunshine to make the same amount of vitamin D.

The sun, treated with respect, is the best way to improve your vitamin D levels. It’s also a great way to increase happiness. Which brings me to…

How To Get  Your Sun Safely

Photo by Liana Ashenden. In summer time, your skin rapidly produces a large amount of vitamin D when you expose your whole body to sunshine for 10-60 minutes (the length of time needed depends on your skin colour, latitude, and time of day).

Typically, as the summer approaches, we begin to see “news” articles popping up, telling us about the devil that is the sun, to avoid it if possible and the need to cover ourselves in sunscreen at all times.

Yet, as I’ve mentioned above, LOW levels of vitamin D have now been directly linked with over 100 diseases, including no less than 16 cancers.

And what is the number one source for humans for Vitamin D? Not vitamin supplements. The UVB radiation in sunlight.

Due to a mix of modern lifestyles, living latitudes, and the “conventional advice”, I feel very strongly that most people are getting insufficient exposure to sunlight, the ultimate source of vitamin D in our lives, for both health and happiness.

I repeated this above: go get some sun.

Even so, I thought it would be valuable to highlight the confusion I often see, via two comments I got on the Athletic Greens Facebook page:

Facebook reader 1: Some of us burn in the sun (versus tan), which can lead to skin cancer.

Facebook reader 2: … Put some lotion on and get some sun. No one burns in 15 minutes

Confusion on this topic abounds. They are both right, and yet they are both wrong.

So what is it….. Ditch the sunscreen? Lather up? Sunshine? No Sunshine? What to dooooo?

Let’s look at the three big things people are trying to avoid when they think of sunshine time and sunscreen, or not.

  1. Sunburn; pain and a nasty red look

  2. Wrinkles and aging

  3. Skin Cancer

Let’s cover off skin cancer first; by far the biggest issue of these.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

  • Cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM)

SCC and BCC are both pretty well correlated to sunshine exposure, particularly UVB exposure. These almost always occur in areas with the largest amount of sun exposure (face, back of hands, neck, ears). They account for nearly 90% of total “skin cancer” – yet are responsible for about 10% of cancer deaths.

 

This is partly because they tend to not be particularly aggressive cancers (they are frequently benign), but also because they can typically be detected early and easily removed via a simple outpatient procedure.

Not fun, but not as bad as melanoma. It should be noted that sunscreen has indeed been found to correlate with decreased SCC, with BCC shows very mixed results.

On the other hand, the nasty malignant melanoma, CCM, causes 90% of deaths related to skin cancer. This cancer has the ability to metastasize (spread) and is frequently undetected until too late. That is a tragic combination. It should be noted here that melanoma most commonly occurs on areas of the body that do not typically receive regular sun.

When most people are talking about avoiding “skin cancer”, they are referring to malignant melanoma.

Because most of us know someone who has had melanoma, this is potentially pretty charged.

My wonderful Aunty Lynn died of malignant melanoma in 2004. Thinking about melanoma is a pretty personal deal to me, and I have AVOIDED the use of sunscreen for nearly 10 years.

For the facts behind why I chose to do this, read on.

Sunscreen and Melanoma

Most Doctors and government agencies the western world over advise people to use sunscreen to reduce their risk of skin cancer, particularly nasty CMM.

Despite this promotion of sunscreen and its constant availability, the incidence of CMM rose 81% between 1973 and 2003 in the USA, and continues to rise at 3% a year.

The same study noted, “There currently is little evidence that sunscreens are protective against CMM”. No kidding.

A number of further studies have come out proposing that not only does sunscreen not prevent melanoma, but have even suggested that sunscreen use may actually increase the risk of CMM.

So we have CMM rates increasing, studies showing that sunscreen doesn’t help and may even be harmful.

Is that what you think you when you look at all the ads devoted to sunscreen and decide to incorporate the “slap on some sunscreen” approach to skin cancer prevention?

How about we add some paper to the fire and talk about…

Sun Exposure and Melanoma

A couple of study synopses for you:

  1. A 2005 study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) looked at the link between sun exposure and mortality from melanoma.

This study, conducted over five years, concluded that frequent exposure to sunlight resulted in a 50% reduction in mortality rates from melanoma.

Yes, 50% REDUCTION in mortality rates.

  1. Residents of Northern USA where there is LESS sun and year long radiation have a 20% plus higher rate of CMM than those who enjoy year round sunshine in Florida, Arizona, Texas. (30/100,000 vs 25/100,000)

  2. Cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) has been increasing at a steady exponential rate in fair-skinned, indoor workers since before 1940.

A paradox exists between indoor and outdoor workers because indoor workers get three to nine times less solar UV exposure than outdoor workers get, yet only indoor workers have an increasing incidence of CMM.

Rates of incidence of melanoma are not increasing in outdoor workers yet have been increasing in indoor workers steadily since 1940.

If it was sunshine that was causing the melanoma, this would hardly be the case now would it?

So what is going on?

To get a better idea we need to quickly look at the ultraviolet radiation (UV) present in sunlight.

For the people falling asleep already, I promise to get to some recommendations before the end of this post.

Microwave me baby – Sun and UV radiation

There are two types of radiation most prevalent in sunlight, UVA and UVB. For years, researchers and sunscreens focused on UVB, and blocking it.

That is because UVB was thought to be the primary causative agent of of all skin cancers via direct DNA damage. This is also the one that makes you feel like you are “burning” when you get enough of it.

To me burning = natural alarm system. We will return to that. Back to UVB.

When you look at the SPF protection on your sunscreen label, they are referring to UVB. UVA is not covered in this.

Some newer sunscreens do now include some UVA blocking protection, but a review of these UVA sunscreens has shown that even the very best ones block only 25% of UVA radiation. (This best result was achieved using Titanium Dioxide, a potential carcinogen in itself).

So what is the deal with UVA? It may not smash your DNA directly like UVB has the potential to do but it would appear that UVA can cause havoc to the DNA via oxidative stress and degradation of vitamin D, UVA exposure in the absence of UVB being highly correlated to increased melanoma risk.

Oooohhh. Vitamin D! We are back! I thought I would never get there.

It is important that you note that vitamin D is made by our bodies from skin exposure to….. drums please…. UVB radiation from sunlight.

Yep, those sunscreens are designed to block UVB, and if you don’t get enough UVB in your life, you don’t get to make vitamin D.

That means you are either stuck with vitamin D from foods (found in small quantities in liver, fatty fish, eggs) but those are tiny amounts, or relying on vitamin supplements.

You might wonder why as a spokesperson for a supplement company I don’t jump up and down about you taking our vitamin D more. This is because while we do think that supplementation is a long way better than nothing, vitamin supplements are a very distant second to sunshine on the skin.

Want more vitamin D in your life, and all the immuno-protecting, cell-regulating benefits that go with it? The SUN is by far your best option.

So let’s talk then about why sunscreens not only do not protect against melanoma, and may actually increase your risk of it.

  1. Sunscreens block UVB rays, the ones that we need to make Vitamin D – in other words, block the body’s natural defense mechanism AGAINST many cancers, including melanoma, while allowing the UVA through, which can increase your risk for melanoma.

This is a bad plan for success.

  1. By blocking UVB rays, we stop or delay the “burning” response, our body’’ natural alarm system for too much sun. Thereby allowing us to stay out in sunshine longer than our body wants to.

The “I’ve had enough UV radiation” natural alarm override – this is a bad plan for success. When the fire alarm goes off after sensing smoke from a fire in your house, do you put on some ear plugs so you can stay inside the house longer?

  1. Improved sense of confidence in sun burning time – resulting in a false sense of confidence, resulting in us prolonging our time spent in sunshine. Use of sunscreen results in INCREASED incidence of sunburn. More than 66% of sunburned people in one study had used sunscreen to prolong their time outside.

And the most likely to use sunscreen are those whose skin is most likely to burn, with sunscreen taken to increase time in the sun without “sunburn” – the highest risk category.

To put it simply, this is where we have found ourselves:

  • Letting in the rays that can cause melanoma

  • Extend our time in those rays

  • Block the rays that help us make Vitamin D (which can help protect us)

  • Allow a ratio of UVA to UVB that is alien to our chemistry

  • AND rub a host of chemicals into our skin that we sure as hell wouldn’t want our children to eat

If this sounds like a good plan to you, stick to it. Personally, I think it is crap.

After a summary of studies relating to melanoma, it would appear that people who go into direct sunshine rarely, yet when they do get sunburned, are by far the highest risk for melanoma.

“We agree that intense, intermittent outdoor UV overexposures and sunburns initiate CMM; we now propose that increased UVA exposures and inadequately maintained cutaneous levels of vitamin D(3) promotes CMM.”  – Godar et al. 2009

I think their hypothesis is pretty much on the money based on everything out there right now.

Perfect Example of Sun Stupidity (photo credit: shelleylyn)

The Prescription For Sunshine Success

The long version: Finding your own unique middle ground where you are getting adequate cutaneous vitamin D status without increasing your risk to develop UV-induced skin cancer and in line with your own skin pigment, lifestyle, and climate considerations.

Consider that for the bulk of human evolution, humans were in equatorial regions. What do people look like who come from those regions?

Plenty of melanin, darker skin, less risk of melanoma, harder to burn but likely a much higher need for total sun exposure to ensure adequate vitamin D status.

Over generations of folks drifting northwards in Europe, paler, more sun sensitive skin was naturally selected for. With less melanin (which by the way, you can alter upwards with plenty of sunshine, known as “tanning”), sun rays came pounding into the skin, and people could synthesize more vitamin D from less sunlight. They also tend to burn more quickly.

A trade off.

Cutaneous levels of melanin adjust upwards in response to frequent sun. This increases time to burn generally in line with skin color.

It should be noted that the individual variation in the optimal amount of sun exposure varies dramatically by genetics, lifestyle, and climate.

Soooooo, if you are of Sub-Saharan African descent and living in Alaska – you are probably going to need a lot of time outdoors to get anywhere near enough cutaneous Vitamin D. Burning is going to be the least of of your worries.

And, if you are of red-haired, pale-skinned, Scottish descent living in Rio de Janeiro, you will need to cover up or seek shade pretty quickly, especially during the summer months. But don’t AVOID sunshine, just be smart about it. Over time, your ability to stay out in direct sunlight will increase slightly with the increased melanin production, thereby decreasing your risk of sunburn.

Remember, it is sunBURN that is the enemy, not sunSHINE.

What about aging?

UVA – aging via oxidative damage – think about an apple going brown after you cut it open

UVB – aging via direct DNA damage (though this damaged skin seems to protect against melanoma)

Both cause aging. My experience with people who have sought sunshine in intelligent, consistent incremental doses throughout their lives has tended to be a golden glow.

This is a personal preference, so it’s your call on how much time you spend out in sunlight each day. Excessive time in the sun WILL age your skin faster.

For those with fair skin and obsessively worried about sun related aging, the trick will be getting in enough and then seeking shade immediately.

At a guestimate, if you are very fair skinned then building up to just 20 minutes a day total in summer may be more than enough to satisfy Vitamin D requirements.

Do this in four doses of 5 minutes and the world is your oyster.

Don’t forget all this will vary massively depending on genetics, lifestyle and climate. If playing sunshine minimalist for whatever reason I absolutely recommend you get your vitamin d levels checked to make sure you are not on the low level. Then consider vitamin supplements.

What about sunscreen toxicity?

A lot of fuss has been made about whether or not sunscreens have toxic properties.

The two ingredients most people jump up and down about are Octyl Methoxycinnamate (OMC) and Titanium Dioxide.

OMC, a chemical compound present in 90% or more of commercially available sunscreens, can potentially damage tissues if it penetrates past the dead dermal layer of your skin. I personally think this is highly likely.

Titanium dioxide, mentioned earlier, a popular (and so far, highest efficacy) ingredient used to block UVA rays, can block up to 25% of UVA rays but can cause an increase in cancer in mice via DNA damage, oxidative stress, and an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines.

That said, mice are mice, people are people.

Whenever thinking about using a chemical on my body, or not, and in terms of how much and how often, I always remember my old chemistry teacher’s advice, “When dealing with chemicals, if you wouldn’t EAT it, or feed it to your children, then don’t sniff it, taste it, or touch it with any part of your skin”.

Obviously you will make your own call on this.

Since the only reason to use sunscreen is to extend your time under sunlight beyond what you think your body can do naturally without burning or aging effects, and sunscreens block UVB and therefore vitamin D, and may in fact be toxic, my take on sunscreen….. is to skip it.

Some will chase “natural” sunscreens, but again, over to you on how you want to play with that one.

Me? Sunshine I seek, I am the opposite of a minimalist when it comes to sun exposure. I feel better, more relaxed and more energetic. Getting outdoors makes me happy.

I am also pretty olive skinned, when I have had enough. I skip sunscreen and instead cover up or go for shade, just like my ancestors did.

My advice for sunny times happiness:

Do not avoid the sun – doing so will result in low vitamin D levels and increased likelihood of depression.

Do not BURN. SunBURN is your enemy. The occasional burn and not much sun otherwise is the worst thing you can do.

Listen to your skin, at the first sign of reddening or burning, you should already be in the shade.

Seek incremental sun exposure. Start with short doses, of 5-10 minutes each, before 11am and after 4pm each day in summer, if fair skinned. You will quickly build a tolerance and can extend your time enjoying the sunshine as desired.

Once your sun dosage is done for the day/period, seek shade or cover up.

If you choose to continue your exposure, covering up is superior to sunscreen.

Sunscreen increases cancer risk and may be toxic – ditching the sunscreen is recommended.

Do not use sunscreen to prolong your exposure.

The same rules apply to your kids!

Let Your Kids Play Outside Intelligently, Starting With Small Doses Of Sunshine, Which Can Be Longer Early Morning and Late Afternoon. Then Cover Them Up. (Smart Sun Exposure As a Child DECREASES Melanoma Risk). Same Rules Apply To Big People.

I also recommend you keep your antioxidant coverage right up via smart nutritional choices to assist in protection against excessive oxidative stress.

As always, if you are eating according to my Whole Foods Diet For Fat Loss food quality guidelines, then you are avoiding pro-inflammatory n6:n3 loads, gut damage and inflammation, and nasty metabolic by-products of poor insulin metabolism.

It is highly recommended that you eat this way, or something very similar.

I haven’t been burned in years. Food has something to do with it, but so does my sun hat.

Always avoid sunburn, but for health and happiness I would much rather you had a tiny bit too much sun, than too little.

Go get your sun mate. You will thank me for it.

Vitamin Supplements: When To Use The Sun Instead
Vitamin Supplements: When To Use The Sun Instead

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Dont forget to grab your quick PDF for buying the best supplements on the market

With so many supplements out there, it’s hard to know what’s good, bad, real or fake. This quick guide can help you identify the best supplements for you, whenever you go shopping!

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