1. Sun Benefits: Smiles and Vitamin D
Invigorating sunshine can scatter the winter blues and put a smile on your face. When ultraviolet sun rays strike and warm your skin they trigger Vitamin D synthesis. Residents in northern climate are often Vitamin D deficient. We miss the beneficial sun effect because much of the year we are bundled in clothing. To maximize your absorption of Vitamin D from the sun, you may want to soak up a few rays before applying your daily sunscreen. Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb dietary calcium, essential for strong bones, teeth and more. Very few foods are rich in Vitamin D, so dietary supplements may be necessary to maintain a healthy Vitamin D level. All Vitamin D forms, including those from the sun, food and supplements are inactive. The liver and kidneys convert the inactive forms into active calcitriol molecules capable of being absorbed by the body.
Inadequate Vitamin D impacts many complex cellular processes including:
- Bone structure and weakness due to calcium deficiency
- Cell growth, immune and neuromuscular function, and reduced inflammatory response
A simple blood test can determine an individuals’ level of Vitamin D and supplements can be prescribed to offset a deficiency.
2. Sun Dangers: Skin & Eye Damage and Skin Cancer
The two ultraviolet radiation spectrums of concern are UVA (320-400nm) and UVB (290-320). UVA is known to penetrate deeper into the skin and is the primary cause of skin wrinkling, non-melanoma skin cancers and possibly melanoma. It is not blocked by automobile or window glass and does not result in sunburn – 95% of sunlight reaching the earth is UVA. UVB is known to be the major factor in tanning and sunburn.
In addition to skin damage, the sun rays can damage both the lens and cornea of the eyes. Clouding in the lens indicates a cataract formation and reduces vision. A feared disease of the retina, the macula, is responsible for sharp visual focus. When the macula deteriorates, acute vision required for reading, is impaired. Macular degeneration often runs in families but UV radiation has also been linked to this disorder. Vitamin supplements may be helpful in prevention. There are some treatments available, but they are not always successful in preventing vision loss.
3. Sun Risk Preventions:
- Protect yourself and your children against UVB by wearing sunscreen. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. An SPF 15, for example will provide about an hour of protection before it is necessary to reapply sunscreen. This varies from person to person, however, so be watchful and read product directions carefully.
- Protect your skin against UVA burning, by wearing a protective hat, and clothing.
- Always avoid prolonged sun exposure to decrease risk for collagen destruction resulting in early skin aging and dramatic increased risk for melanoma.
- Protect your eyes by always wearing sunglasses. Children also need to wear them. Dogs, too, develop UV eye damage. Doggie goggles are available at www.goggles.com
Enjoy the sun, but in moderation.
Betty Kuffel, MD