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A Healthier Tomorrow – Sunshine – Friend or Foe?

A Healthier Tomorrow – Sunshine – Friend or Foe? 

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow   

By Alison H. Page

We’re used to hearing about how too much of the sun’s warm rays can be harmful to your skin. But did you know the right balance can have lots of benefits?  Sunshine can, indeed, be your friend. 

Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep.

Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip, which can lead to major depression with seasonal pattern. The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin. So, you’re more likely to experience this type of depression in the wintertime, when the days are shorter.

A mood boost isn’t the only reason to get increased amounts of sunlight. There are several health benefits associated with catching moderate amounts of rays.

Building strong bones – Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to create vitamin D.  The vitamin D made thanks to the sun plays a big role in bone health. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to rickets in children and bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis in adults.

Cancer prevention – Although excess sunlight can contribute to skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight actually has preventive benefits when it comes to cancer.  According to researchers, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers than those who live where there’s more sun during the day. These cancers include colon cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.

Healing skin conditions – According to the World Health Organization, sun exposure might help treat several skin conditions, too. Doctors have recommended UV radiation exposure to treat: psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne.

But, while sunshine can be your friend, we also know it can be your foe.  The UV radiation from sunlight can penetrate the skin and damage cell DNA.  This can lead to skin cancer. Top of Form

Researchers don’t always have an exact measurement for how long you should stay outside to reap the benefits of sunlight. But defining an excess amount of sun exposure depends on your skin type and how direct the sun’s rays are.

People with fair skin typically get a sunburn more quickly than those with darker skin. Also, you’re more likely to get a sunburn going outside when the sun’s rays are more direct. This usually takes place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

According to the World Health Organization, getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face 2-3 times a week is enough to enjoy the vitamin D-boosting benefits of the sun.

Many factors can affect your ability to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through the sun alone. These factors include being in an area with high pollution, using sunscreen, spending more time indoors, living in big cities where buildings block sunlight, and having darker skin.

These factors contribute to vitamin D deficiency in an increasing number of people. That’s why it’s important to get some of your vitamin D from sources besides sunlight.  You should make sure to get vitamin D through the foods you eat.  Some of the best food sources of vitamin D include salmon, sardines, egg yolk, shrimp, and food fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, cereal, yogurt, and orange juice. 

If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be deficient in vitamin D: Tiredness, aches and pains, and a general sense of not feeling well; severe bone or muscle pain or weakness; and stress fractures, especially in your legs, pelvis, and hips.

Doctors can diagnose a vitamin D deficiency by performing a simple blood test. If you have a deficiency, your doctor may order imaging to check the strength of your bones.  If you’re diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will likely recommend you take daily vitamin D supplements.

The bottom line: Sunshine is both friend and foe.  From treating skin conditions to improving mood, sunlight has many benefits.  But, because excess sun exposure is linked with increased skin cancer risk, don’t stay outside too long without protection!

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