As I was working on putting together this post in the middle of a bright, sunny day here in beautiful Davie, FL, I had to stop myself for a minute, get away from the computer, and spend some time outside. There is something fundamentally wrong with spending all day indoors writing a post about the superhuman benefits of Vitamin D and sunlight. After seeing study after study tout the benefits of spending time in the sun, I felt compelled to make sure I was getting my fair share.
Sunlight and Vitamin D are often ignored parts of a healthy lifestyle. Were lucky enough to find time to prepare meals, exercise, and sleep enough, now were supposed to take time out of the middle of our day to spend time in the sun? Let’s be serious. How is sunlight going to help me get a six-pack anyways? While I can’t promise you that spending more time in the sun will expedite your road to a six-pack, I can tell you that getting regular sunlight and boosting Vitamin D should dramatically improve your overall health. And at the very least, once you do get your six-pack, it will look a lot nicer with a tan.
Besides a nice tan though, there are a huge number of benefits to spending more time outside. Here are some of the SUPERHUMAN benefits of Vitamin D and sunlight.
The Superhuman Benefits of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D builds strong bones.
Most of us think of calcium when it comes to building strong bones. But Vitamin D is required for the body to properly use calcium as well as phosphorous in order to build strong bones. Maybe this is why Americans have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis even though we consume so much calcium from dairy products. Also, Rickets, which is a softening or weakening of the bones, is caused by a lack of Vitamin D. Its clear that calcium doesn’t tell the whole story. Vitamin D appears to have a huge effect on the strength of our skeletal system.
Vitamin D helps you live longer.
When women in institutional care were given Vitamin D as a supplement, their mortality rates decreased significantly. This could be due to the fact that falls and fractures are a huge problem for elderly women, and as we mentioned earlier, Vitamin D contributes to strong bones. In another study, people with low levels of Vitamin D were twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D might not be the fountain of youth, but it does appear to help you live longer.
Vitamin D makes you happier.
Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a type of depression that occurs more frequently in the winter time and in northern latitudes, appears to be heavily correlated to a lack of sunlight and Vitamin D. Coincidentally, light therapy is used to help improve the symptoms. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are both highly prevalent in adolescents with severe mental illness. Maybe that antsy feeling you get during the winter time isn’t just in your head. Your body is likely craving more sunlight and more Vitamin D.
Vitamin D protects against cancer and other diseases.
It’s amazing how many diseases are correlated to low levels of Vitamin D. We already mentioned osteoporosis and depression earlier, but the list appears to be endless. Excema and allergies in children appear to be linked to low levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to promote the formation of cystatin D, which has shown to suppress tumors and have anticancer effects. Colon cancer will spread through the body much faster when low levels of Vitamin D are present. Vitamin D has even earned the nickname “the sunshine vitamin” for its immune enhancing effects during the winter time. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg for conditions that are associated with Vitamin D. Just check out the comprehensive list WebMDhas put together, and then get your ass outside!
How to get more Vitamin D?
There’s a good chance that you’re not getting enough Vitamin D. Even in sunny climates such as South Florida, as many as 40% of older people have low levels of Vitamin D. If you’re living at a northern latitude or if you’re dark skinned and produce less Vitamin D for every minute you spend in the sun, there’s a good chance you’re short on Vitamin D.
The natural inclination for most people would be to look at food sources of Vitamin D. But food sources pale in comparison to the power of the sun.
It’s been ingrained in our brains that milk is a great source of Vitamin D and is essential to building strong bones. But the belief that calcium and Vitamin D from milk will build strong bones is mostly fabricated by the dairy industry. As proven by the high consumption of dairy in the US, milk will likely NOT save your precious brittle bones.
Milk is actually a miserable source of Vitamin D as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Even milk fortified with Vitamin D still falls way short and would require SIX 8-ounce glasses a day to meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations of 600 IU. As Loren Cordain states in his book, The Paleo Answer, the world’s best Vitamin D researchers recommend a level of 2,000 IU a day! This would require you drink 20 8-ounce glasses of fortified milk each day! Since no one can reasonably drink this much milk in a day, it goes without saying that the milk marketers are stretching the truth just a bit.
Maybe milk isn’t the answer then. What other foods contain high levels of Vitamin D? Well I would have to eat a pound of salmon, which is one of the highest food sources of Vitamin D, just to get the same amount of Vitamin D that I could produce in 18 minutes of sun exposure during the middle of the day. If I wanted to try to get the same amount of Vitamin D from eggs, which is also a pretty good source of Vitamin D, I would only have to eat about 60 of them. That’s about 55 more eggs then I like to eat in a day. I think I would rather spend 20 minutes a day outside.
Supplementation is the third option for getting your daily dose of Vitamin D. The nice thing about Vitamin D supplements is they’re cheap and they do appear to work. But, as always, supplements should be a last resort. If you’re going to supplement, do it on days where you absolutely can’t find any time to get out in the sun. Also, if you choose to supplement, I would recommend supplementing with Vitamin D3, which seems to outperform Vitamin D2 in most cases.
Its pretty clear that sun exposure is our best bet for increasing our Vitamin D levels, but that brings up another question. What about the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer?
What about skin cancer?
I would first like to point out that the recommendations above don’t require you to spend a lot of time in the sun. You’re entire day’s production of Vitamin D can be created in less than ½ the time it takes for your skin to turn pink. That’s not a whole lot of time. Especially if you live in south Florida like me.
Also, most studies recognize that regular time in the sun has little to no correlation to skin cancer. In fact, more than ¾ of cancer patients have insufficient levels of Vitamin D, not the other way around. What the studies really say is that using sunscreen, particularly as a way to increase time out in the sun, is one of the few things that has a strong correlation with increased melanoma risk. This is probably why sunscreen users have a greater risk for melanoma than non-users.
Another interesting point that needs to be made is that one of the reasons we blame for the rise of obesity, is our lack of time spent outside, particularly on outdoor physical activity. If we’re getting fatter because we are spending less time outside away from the tv and the computer, then how did non-melanoma skin cancers rise 4.2% per year from 1992-2006 with decreased sun exposure? We are probably at a point in our evolutionary history where we are spending less time outside than ever before, yet skin cancer continues to rise at an exponential rate. It should be pretty clear that sun exposure is not the principle thing to blame for skin cancer. And sunscreen is definitely not the solution.
Study after study has shown the superhuman benefits of sunlight and vitamin D. Make sure you put sunlight up on the pedestal with diet and workouts, it’s that important! And a great excuse to go to the beach! :)
Make sure you get your Vitamin D EVERYDAY, especially to protect your immune system when fall and winter roll around. This is extra important for our superhuman friends in the northern climates.
Amazon carries a wide range of Vitamin D3 supplements. The Carlson Ddrops come highly recommended by many people in the paleo community and have received all 5 star reviews so far on Amazon.