When the sun is shining I can do anything; No mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.~ Wilma Rudolph
My grandma had 8 kids and had taken care of several more during her lifetime. She was the undisputed expert on children in our family. Always had a trick up her sleeve, whether it was a baby with a cold or a baby crying through the night for no apparent reason. She spoke through the wisdom of her experience.
Every time one of my aunts or uncles had a new born, she did a very curious thing. Everyday, early morning, when the sun just rose up on the horizon, she would massage the baby, head to toe with coconut oil and lay the baby on a blanket set out in the direct sunlight. Then she would go by her morning chores, and get a warm bath ready for the baby, for the next half hour.
Although I didn’t question it then, this memory stuck with me. I came across some articles recently, and realized just how wise my grandma had been.
To learn about what my grandma and her predecessors knew from experience, and is confirmed by scientists today, we will have to chat about Vitamin D, which has been all the rage in recent years.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means, when there is an excess, they can be stored in the fat tissues in our body, and used when needed. Vitamin D is very unique because our body can produce it’s own when exposed to sunlight, UVB rays in particular, without sunscreen on.
What does Vitamin D do?
Vitamin D improves our immunity, is vital for calcium absorption which equals healthy bones, speeds up metabolism, helps with depression and prevents chronic illnesses like autoimmune disease, asthma, diabetes and even cancer.
Why don’t we just supplement it?
To answer that question, we will have to dive a little bit more into vitamin D and how it gets absorbed into our body.
The vitamin comes in two forms D2 and D3. D2 comes from plants (mushrooms grown in UV light) and D3 from animals (fish oil, liver, egg yolk, butter). Now, D2 is a lot easier and cheaper to produce. So, most of the dietary supplements contain D2. Our body produces D3 when exposed to the sun.
D2 and D3 are not equal when it comes to raising our Vitamin D status in the blood. Athough, both are effectively absorbed into the bloodstream, and both of them metabolizes into a compound called calcifediol, here is where the difference comes in. Most studies show that D3 is more effective than D2 at raising blood levels of calcifediol (1, 2).
Apart from the above disadvantages, replacing the real thing with supplements is never really the answer. Our body is the biggest mystery of all. Everyday scientists are making new discoveries, but we still haven’t unraveled all of its workings. Sunlight benefits our body and mind in a lot of subtle ways that supplements can’t really reach for. It is not a coincidence that our body’s mechanisms are designed around the amount of sunlight it receives.
Why the early morning sun? What does it do that supplements don’t?
We all have a clock inside of us. It tells us when we should be bright and awake and when we should feel tired. It is called the circadian rhythm. Light affects our circadian rhythm. This is the reason it is harder to feel awake in winter when it’s dark and gloomy outside. Not only does light wake you up, but it makes sure that when it’s dark, your body shuts down properly and you get a good nights sleep. Now we all know what a good nights sleep can do to our body, mind and overall sense of well being.
Balancing our circadian rhythm is just a bonus. The sun does something really cool. It gradually conditions our body to receive the coveted vitamin D and here is how.
Sunlight has all the colors of the rainbow. From Infrared to ultraviolet. While the UVB rays that helps produce vitamin D occur later in the day, the early morning sun is made up of mainly infrared and blue light.
Infrared makes about 42% of sunlight . Did you know that if you catch infrared light early in the morning, it pre-conditions our skin to protect our skin from the UVA and UVB rays that come out later in the day? Nature has thought about everything, hasn’t it?
Have you heard of red light therapy? It is highly beneficial to our skin. It diminishes scars, increases collagen production and improves circulation . That is not something we hear about the sun everyday. But its true, sun provides all this and it’s free.
The other part of the morning sunlight, the blue light is the one that sets your body clock. It wakes you up in the morning by increasing your cortisol levels and as the blue light fades in the evening, it puts you to sleep.
Just like red light therapy, there is blue light therapy and you will not believe what they are used for. They are used for treatment of sun damage and pre-malignant or malignant skin cancer growths. The very things the sun’s UV rays bring about . It turns out our poison is also our medicine.
But again, all blue light is not created equal. The blue light from our phones, TV, electronic devices create a host of health issues like myopia, macular degeneration, hormonal issues and much more. The sun with its wide spectrum of lights is what makes it healing.
So ultraviolet lights. Are they all bad?
Now that we have preconditioned our skin with a dose of the early morning sunlight and got it all ready for a dose of the ultra violet rays, let’s see what they do to our skin.
Are the UV rays bad for our skin like the media says? Research says it’s not. According to this article, the UV rays from the tanning bed causes cancer and the not the ones from the sun. The difference? The UVA rays from the sun triggers melanin production, which in turn protects our skin while the UV rays from the tanning bed does no such thing.
The UVA rays come out later in the morning and give us all the benefits of excercise by just basking in it. UVA triggers the production nitric oxide, seratonin, dopamine along with the subtle opiate effect. The result? We feel good. This is the reason we associate sunshine with happiness.
Finally the vitamin D producing UVB rays peek out around noon. At this time, the sun will be the strongest and harshest and our skin is most prone to sunburn, that is if you had missed the morning sunlight.
Do you see why the sun is not just about vitamin D and why we can’t get away with supplements? We have to experience the full spectrum of the sun to live our most healthiest life.
Now back to my grandma. What did she know?
Infants are no different from us. They are just a lot smaller and their skin much more sensitive. Which means their skin needs the preconditioning much more than we do. Do you know that the only nutrient missing from breast milk is vitamin D?
And finally a word of caution. Too much of a good thing is still bad. Moderation is key. If you decide to spend an entire day in the sun, after being locked up indoors for years, your skin hasn’t got used to the sun. As always baby steps. Start with the early morning sun.
Not a morning person? Read about how you can become one.
Are you scared of sun exposure? I found this article very intriguing.
Do you know any other cool facts about the sun? Are you afraid to go out in the sun or are you a sun worshiper? Comment below and let me know. I love to hear from you.