To celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the near with the brightest sunlight in the northern equator, we’re sharing a very special series on sunlight!
As a disclaimer, this newsletter is for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice or to substitute for your doctor’s opinion.
Myth: Sun exposure is deadly.
Reality: It’s complicated, but some evidence suggests the more direct sun you get, the lower your risk of dying from all causes .
According to a Swedish study of nearly 30,000 women, sun avoidance increases the risk of death similar to cigarette smoking, and the women who got the greatest amount of direct sun exposure had the longest life expectancies!
What about skin cancer? That’s the complicated part. You may be more likely to get nonmalignant skin cancer and less likely to die from skin cancer overall, and either way, the scientists concluded that lowering your risk of heart disease and other cancers was a net positive.
Myth: The benefits of sunlight come from vitamin D.
Reality: Vitamin D is essential, but it’s only one benefit of sunlight.
Because sunlight increases vitamin D levels, studies like the Swedish study often use vitamin D levels as one way to measure overall sun exposure.
However, that definitely doesn’t mean you can get all the benefits of sun from popping a pill!
Many studies of vitamin D show no benefit to taking it in supplement form, which could be due to bad study design — but also that making D3 from sunlight likely works better than supplements because it reaches more tissues.
More importantly, sun exposure has extra benefits that don’t stem from vitamin D, like:
- Aligning circadian rhythms and enhancing sleep
- Balancing immune function
- Boosting serotonin, dopamine, and mood
- Increasing product of “feel-good” endorphins and endocannabinoids
- Preventing depression, cancer, dementia, metabolic disorder, and more
- Raising nitric oxide and lowering blood pressure
- Supporting mitochondrial energy production
Myth: Sunscreen saves lives.
Reality: Sunscreen doesn’t protect against skin cancer and may raise the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer.
A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis shows that sunscreen’s “expected protective benefits against skin cancer” don’t actually exist in the data, and some evidence actually suggests melanoma risk increases with sunscreen use.
Unfortunately, commercial sunscreens are full of endocrine disrupting chemicals that absorb into your bloodstream and also create free radicals when you apply them and go out in the sun. They’re also bad for the environment and ocean life.
The safest ways to prevent sunburn are to wear a hat and extra layers or go in the shade instead of direct sun. For a safer sunscreen, you can try coconut oil on the skin (SPF 7 or lower) or zinc oxide (SPF 50 or higher).
Who knew the sun could be so controversial?!
Expect more amazing sun insights in an upcoming email, including the role of seafood in solar health, more tips to avoid burning, and how to get maximum benefit from sunlight.
Until then, work on building those vitamin D levels (and all the other good stuff you learned about today!).
And if you’re eating seasonally, consider this your official go-ahead to eat carbs (especially fruit) in the sun. Your body can even store vitamin D3 in body fat, which can help keep your levels elevated this winter!