Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fear of the Sun

Funny how I'm going to write about the benefits of the sun, after the sun nearly destroyed me on my last trip to California. In spite of this I'm still pro sun exposure, as the fact still remains that moderate sun exposure can be extremely beneficial to your health. Note that I said moderate. Don't go bake out in the sun, rationalizing it by saying to yourself "well Gregg said I could..." I digress.

Is the sun really that dangerous?

Researchers believe Vitamin D plays a key role in health. Vitamin D is often referred to as the sun vitamin because the body creates Vitamin D when your skin is is exposed to sunlight. In fact a recent study has shown that those deficient in vitamin d have a greater risk of dying among a host of other problems.

So if the sun is so effective at promoting health why are people constantly being told to cover up to shield ourselves from the sun? Wearing a hat, staying in the shade, putting on sunglasses and sunblock are all recommendations we've heard prior to going out in the sun. The reason for this recommendation is because extreme sun exposure/burning leads to a greater risk of skin cancer. So while the recommendation is well intended, telling people to avoid the sun entirely is misleading. I was guilty of this as well, as for years I avoided the sun like the plague. So lets take a look at sunglasses and sunblock.

Sunglasses. The verdict is probably still out on this one, but I've believed that wearing sun glasses constantly isn't a good idea for eye health. My thoughts were further solidified when this study came out showing that spending time outdoors is great for kids eyes. I'm not saying you should go out and stare into the sun, or drive with the risk of being blinded by it as sunglasses have a time and place. With that said if you are a constant sunglass user you should consider taking a break from them occasionally. Your eyes might thank you.

Give Your Eyes a Break!

Sunblock. Sunblock is a bit more controversial. Many sunblocks contain known carcinogens in the ingredient list (which is ironic as it's used for skin cancer prevention). I typically don't wear sunblock, and if I do I try and use one that is free of carcinogens. I say I typically don't wear sunblock, but I also try to avoid extreme sun exposure (but alas as you've seen, it sometimes happens). The EWG (Environmental Working Group) has a site called skin deep, which can point you in the right direction of which sun screens are safe, and which might do you more harm than good.

So what can you do during the winter months when your sun exposure is limited? Aside from consuming foods rich in vitamin d (there aren't many), the best option is probably supplemental vitamin d. Most multi vitamins contain some vitamin d, but be sure to check the label. Eric Cressey calls vitamin d supplementation "the next big thing."

So in short, don't avoid the sun and don't go out and get yourself burned. As what typically happens the media(and their minions) over react, and the right thing lies somewhere in the middle.


Anonymous said...

The body's fat supply can store plenty of Vitamin D for the winter season. It is rare that people experience Vitamin D deficiency, so I don't think that a supplement is necessary.

Also, I'd strongly suggest wearing sunscreen over worrying about carcinogens in sunscreen if you are fair or have a family history of skin cancer.

Gregg said...


Thanks for the comment. The studies show that a lot of people are vitamin D deficient. I'd agree that getting your Vitamin D from the sun is better than a supplement, but for those of us that can't get outside during the day (regardless of the season) can definitely develop a deficiency, and this is a simple solution.

As an alternative to the supplement, a food derived supplement which contains Vitamin D (which I don't really consider a supplement) is Cod liver oil. Just be sure you get it from a safe source that is free of mercury and other toxins.