In my house we have a saying, “ If the sun is out, drop everything and get to the beach!’ While this is realistically not always possible, I have always been of the mindset that we get so few weeks of sunshine in this country, compared to the dark grey days of our long winters, we must make the most of it while it is here. This summer we seem particularly blessed, with temperature soaring beyond anything I can remember in the UK before. However, previously here in the UK we cannot usually plan things more than a week ahead, because you simply don’t know if the weather will remain the same. I guess that’s why its such a top topic of conversation for us Brits!
However, as soon as temperatures start rising, we get bombarded with health message: beware of the sun! I get that the dangers of skin cancer from unprotected sun exposure are now well known. But that's only half the story.
The health value of sunlight, lauded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, has been largely eclipsed in recent years by concerns about skin cancer. While this is a very real, and increasing, problem - more than 7,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma in the UK each year - evidence is also emerging that moderate amounts of exposure, may be positively healthy.
Sunlight plays a vital role in the production of vitamin D in the body, and it's believed that the vitamin may have a role in stopping or slowing the growth of tumor by preventing the overproduction of cells, as well as in boosting bones. Vitamin D is available in some foods, but it is estimated that up to 90 per cent comes from exposure to sunlight.
It’s a very basic rule, but simply put Vitamin D sufficiency is required for optimal health. The conditions with strong evidence for a protective effect of vitamin D include several bone diseases, muscle weakness, more than a dozen types of internal cancers, multiple sclerosis and type-1 diabetes mellitus. One of the first clues to a possible beneficial link between cancer and sunlight was the discovery of large geographic differences in the prevalence of colon cancer deaths in America. The rates in the states in the north were treble those in the south.
Since then, researchers have found that incidences of other cancers also vary according to levels of sunlight.
Sunlight may also protect against MS and explain why the disease is more prevalent in areas most distant from the equator. MS is also more common at low altitudes than at high altitudes, where the intensity of ultraviolet radiation is much stronger. Apparently higher sun exposure between the ages of 6 and 15 yrs old, and an average or two to three hours or more a day in summer during weekends and holidays - more than halved the risk of getting the disease. One theory is that exposure to sunlight boosts the immune system to prevent the damage involved in the disease. Another is that vitamin D plays a key role in the growth of the developing brain.
The risk of many diseases and disorders can be reduced by sunlight. Epidemiological data indicate a low vitamin D status in tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel diseases, hypertension, and specific types of cancer. So, while you should be cautious, and not be exposed in direct sunshine for hours all day long, some daily exposure could just be what you need to boost your health. I see so many people in my clinics that are very deficient in minerals and Vitamins, especially Vitamin D, that is affecting their wellbeing.
So while we are lucky enough to be experiencing long sunny days right now, enjoy as much as you can! Skip work, take the day off, buy a paddle board, learn to windsurf, sail or surf! Being outside in the elements makes you feel alive… and life is for thriving, right?