Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic problem in the modern world. In 2010, a large study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism revealed that 59 percent of the population is vitamin D deficient.
Almost 25 percent of the test subjects had extremely low levels of this critical hormone. Source (Department of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology, Nutrition, and Diabetes. Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory, Boston University Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine).
If you think you aren’t affected by Vitamin D deficiency, read this post I wrote from 2010.
Have you ever wondered why there seems to be a particularly bad few months of flus and colds during the waning months of winter and into spring – around the end of January stretching into April? When I say this, I’m not saying there aren’t any flus and colds during the other winter months, but simply that this seems to be when these illnesses are at their most acute.
I believe this is because these are the last grey months just before spring, and our bodies stores of Vitamin D – if we have any left – are running out or we are greatly depleted.
Now’s your chance! It’s September and if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is on a fast ticket to the southern hemisphere. Where I live, Boise, ID, which is in the Northern U. S. , there are still some hot days and good sun exposure time left until at least November.
With each successive winter season I find that I am able to resist illness with even greater ease than I did the previous season. Besides a good diet including real food and plenty of healthy fats, one of the things I’ve changed in the last 7 years is that I make sure I am getting plenty of sun exposure to store up Vitamin D for the winter.
Between working in the yard and going on hikes in the foothills with my dog, I generally try to get at least an hour or more of sun daily. I also go out in my back yard and lay in the sun for 30-45 minutes whenever I can (sometimes it’s hard to find the time). But I really try to make time because I know it’s an insurance policy against flus, colds, and other illnesses. I really find that I don’t burn the way I used to, that I get tan more than anything else. I’ve also almost never used sunscreen on my son who also has had really only 2-3 sunburns in his whole life, which were very mild.
During the month of August we had numerous fires around the Boise, ID area where I live, making it unpleasant and downright unbearable to go outside. I feel as though I’ve had a whole month of summer ripped away, so I’m going to make the most of it while the sun is still here and get exposure as much as possible.
Increasing disease rates, despite medical recommendations to avoid the sun
Do you ever wonder why we still have such high rates of cancer and skin cancer, even though we are told to avoid sun exposure and use sunscreen every time we walk out the door?
With so many people being told to avoid the sun and slather on the sunscreen which contains toxic chemicals and blocks our bodies’ ability to absorb Vitamin D, and people working indoors in offices – it should be obvious that we are not getting enough Vitamin D. It’s no wonder this health issue is such a problem. Disease rates in developed countries where we avoid the sun, consume processed foods regularly and also use many personal care products, it’s no secret that disease rates are increasing all the time:
For more information on how toxic sunscreens can be due to their ingredients and harmful because they don’t allow us to get the Vitamin D we need from the sun, read this post I wrote from 2010.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include:
- Frequent flus and colds
- Muscle weakness or fatigue
- Diabetes and blood sugar issues
- Other auto-immune disease such as M.S., Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia
- Periodontal disease
- Obesity and weight problems
- Bone loss or osteopenia/osteoporosis, fractures and breaks
- Behavior and mood issues
- Learning disabilities
Tips for sun exposure:
- If you haven’t been out in the sun much, use common sense. Don’t just go out for hours on end without a break or covering up. Start slow and regular, and work your way up gradually. For the first week or two, limit your time to 10-15 minutes daily if you are sensitive to the sun or have allergies, and increase your time by 5-10 minutes. As you go along, you should be able to be out in the sun for longer periods of time without burning.
- Uncover as much of your body as you can, including your stomach, back, neck, arms, and legs. Total exposure is important for your body’s ability to adequately absorb Vitamin D. Read this interesting post from The Healthy Home Economist about exposing your belly to the sun for digestive, immune, and overall health. I definitely spend as much time as I can sunbathing with my belly exposed. What can I say, I love my bikini!
- When you know you are going to be out in the sun for long periods of time and you are worried about sunburn, use long sleeves and long pants or skirts/dresses, hats, scarves, and wraps for your head. Seek shade when you’ve had too much.
- Hydrate with nourishing beverages like kombucha, water kefir, home-made infusions from dried herbs like nettles, or filtered water with minerals. Water is not necessarily going to give you the minerals you need to keep disease and illness away. Most water we drink is full of chemicals and depleted in minerals we need, and there are other beverages which provide the nutrients our bodies need. Find out why.
- If you wear sunglasses, consider not wearing them all the time or discontinuing the use of them altogether. Our eyes are meant to react to sunlight and absorb Vitamin D not by looking at the sun directly, but by being exposed without cover, to the sun. Closing your eyes and facing the sun directly while sitting is very healthy and also helps the body to more readily absorb Vitamin D. Remember that people didn’t use to wear sunglasses, so this may be yet another modern invention designed to make money that can contribute to Vitamin D deficiency.
Exposure to daily sunlight helps to correctly regulate our waking/sleeping cycles. When light penetrates the eye, it causes stimulation in the hypothalmus part of the human brain. The hypothalmus is connected to the pineal gland, an organ which helps to correctly regulate when our bodies rest and when it’s time to wake up. This is largely due to secretion of the hormone melatonin.
If we don’t get adequate sun exposure, it will affect all kinds of things in our bodies including cortisol levels (a stress hormone), which cause us to react to stimulus. It should be highest in the morning and taper off as the day wears on. It should be lowest at night so our bodies can sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep at the right times, we are unknowingly altering our cortisol levels. This results in suppressed thyroid, lowered immunity, higher blood pressure, increased abdominal fat, decreased bone density, higher blood pressure and blood sugar imbalances.
- A healthy diet makes a big difference as to whether your skin will absorb sunlight in a healthy way or will be vulnerable to burning. If you eat a lot of processed foods with chemicals that also have little or no healthy fats, you can expect to have a lot of health problems and trouble with absorbing Vitamin D from the sun.
Grass-fed meats, lard, tallow and organ meats from healthy animals on pasture, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, raw, whole dairy foods, cod liver oil - which are all good sources of Vitamin D (especially cod liver oil), and other foods such as olive oil, coconut oil, seafood, organ meats, and other foods like organic fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fermented foods and beverages will help you stay healthy and enable your body to absorb Vitamin D and store it.
- In cold winter months, get outside regularly and if you can, on warmer days, peel the clothing off and expose your skin. If you have very little in the way of sunny days, bundle up and go outside anyway.
Update 9/14/12: apparently, the $5 bulbs I wrote about in this post don’t do anything for Vitamin D absorption. What you need is a product like this from Sperti, which isn’t cheap, but will get the job done in the winter months when there is no Vitamin D to be had from the sun (especially in locations that are in the Northern Hemisphere).
I do think the $5 bulb I used last winter did help my mood though. I used it most days last winter on my desk in my office on cloudy days. This past winter we also had a lot of sunny days and a very mild cold weather, so even though there is purportedly no Vitamin D available during the winter months in Idaho, you can bet I was out every chance I got! I was only sick once this past season and it was in the mid-spring after we had a lot of really cloudy, rainy days.
- Use a good, natural moisturizer/protectant on your skin. If you want to help keep your skin from sunburning, extra virgin coconut oil used topically in liberal amounts and applied often, with its natural anti-0xidative and anti-inflammatory qualities is a natural healing and protector of the skin. In his book, Virgin Coconut Oil: Nature’s Miracle Medicine, Dr. Bruce Fife has recounted how for many years, traditional people living in island locations used coconut oil daily to protect from sunburn, maintain skin tone and repel insects. He also describes other ways which these cultures used this amazing oil: “When a mother gave birth one of the first things she would do is to rub coconut oil all over her newborn. Every day coconut oil would be used on the skin. As the children got older they applied the oil themselves. They would continue this practice throughout their lifetime up until the day they died. Many islanders, even today, carry on this practice.”
The use of commercial personal products such as shampoo, soaps, lotions, moisturizers, and others have a negative effect on our body and skin’s natural ability to protect us from the sun.
Cod liver oil applied directly to the skin is really moisturizing and healing. Green Pasture Products makes a fantastic body balm and also calm balm that are really healthy for your skin. These both contain fermented cod liver oil, shea butter, high vitamin butter oil, and coconut oil, and essential oils. If you have sunburn, this stuff is perfect and can really help healing that repair process.
Aloe vera is another good skin treatment, whether it’s the gel or the whole leaf.
Avocado smeared on your skin and left for about 1/2 and then gently washed off is also extremely healing and moisturizing.
Other good skin emollients include lard, tallow, olive oil, and palm oil – from pastured/sustainable sources, of course.
Testimonials on sun exposure and what it does for health
Read these great testimonials from moms with kids or grown children about the healing effects of being in the sun with gradual and safe exposure, who have used real food in their diets, and how they have either stopped using sunscreen altogether or only use it rarely:
Katie Packwood, Boise, ID:
I am on my second summer of no sun screen. Last year I even spent an entire week in the Dominican Republic and didn’t use sun screen once. I used to get burned very easily and could never get a good tan. Now I make a point to get regular sun exposure during the peak UVB hours. I am building a nice base tan and I feel great. I also get unsolicited compliments all the time about my glowing skin. I credit healthy fats and a cleaner diet. Another thing I have noticed…for 25 years I had small bumps on the backs of my arms and on my back. I asked many dermatologists what they were. I was told repeatedly that I just needed to exfoliate more. But, I have since learned that these bumps are a sign of Vit A and fatty acid deficiency. They completely disappeared when I changed my diet.
Lidia Seebek, CO:
Using D3, cod liver oil (well sometimes) and LOTS of good old sunshine has definitely helped me this year. If you’re not tanning, it could be a sign that you’re THAT deficient in Vitamin D. Getting more D has cut back the amount of infections in this house.
Darcy Ludeman, Billings, MT:
I have never used sunscreen, to date I am fine & healthy. I also besides eat/take what you have posted (referring to the posts I put up on Facebook), drink 3 cups of loose leaf green tea w/nettles infused in it. I never sunburn, (I am olive skin ) but I am also outside quite a bit too.
I totally notice I don’t sunburn as much now that I eat real food… and haven’t used sun screen in two years and am fine with it. Also havent put any sunscreen on my toddler this year and he hasn’t been burnt at all.I used the Badger sun screen on him the last two years but after reading all the sun screen stuff I decided not to use any at all. Plus I am in the Pacific NW where there are a lot of trees to hide under so we are not in the direct sun all day long- however its still easy to get sunburnt here just like anywhere. I don’t get too much judgement because people don’t notice, but I think if I was more open about it I think I would. People are big on their sunscreen and how it is keeping you safe. I understand though, I used to think sunscreen was really important, I had a hard time coming around
Mary March, Calgary, Alberta (Canada):
I am really noticing how my skin has changed and is getting more used to our beautiful sun. I am a very pale redhead, so I used to cover up and use some natural-ish sunscreens, but now I shun all types of hats, sunglasses and clothes and try and soak in as much of it as possible (while still taking shade breaks when I feel it time). With the addition of that PLUS eating better fats and lots of juicing I haven’t had a sunburn yet this year and have spent some serious outdoor time in the blazing hot sun… it’s my testimony that this is true!
Thea S., Louisville, KY:
I’m have been Paleo for 2 years and I rarely ever use sunscreen. As you know, the Paleo diet is rich in good animal fats, which I gladly consume on a daily basis. I refrain from eating processed foods as much as possible and no dairy, soy, legumes and grains. I think it’s helped with my skin. I used to have terrible acne and no dermatologist had any help except to give me drugs to control them. My skin is great now. No breakouts and I look very young for my age. I often get mistaken to be a teen Mom! Anyway, I avoid using sunscreen as much as possible and soak as much natural Vitamin D as I can. I don’t burn at all, I mostly tan.
Wendy Rose, Boise, ID:
I don’t use sunscreen and I don’t put it on my children either. We spend a regular amount of time out in the sun and we don’t get burned, so there are never LONG exposures, and this is key. I think if you pace yourself in the sun, wear a hat, etc., and find shade on a regular basis it’s not necessary to use sunscreen. I DO worry about the ozone and I wonder about the effects of being exposed to the sun today compared to when I was a kid, but feel that sunscreen’s chemicals are far more damaging.
Susan Roth, NJ
I live in NJ and take D3, FCLO, and don’t use sunscreen. If I were to go to the beach (which I have not in years) I would probably have to cover my legs after a short while because they just don’t get much sun. But sunscreen can actually let the harmful rays through and gives a false sense of security, just because you don’t get the burn to warn you.
Nicki Lovins, Tulsa, OK:
My kids eat deep sea fish daily, along with cod liver oil. We have never used sun screen. We don’t burn. We can be outside for hours on end and not burn. It’s because of the amount of omegas we are consuming and the amount of Vitamin D we are getting.
If we are around people who are sick with the flu, tummy bug, upper respitory infections; we don’t get it at all! We aren’t even down for a day. I run a small daycare and when the kids I watch get sick I don’t even worry about it because…I am not kidding when I say we won’t get it!
Suzanne S, U.K.:
I don’t use sunscreen and didn’t with my children. We live in the northern hemisphere so when we do see the sun it is very strong. Our firstborn has naturally tanning non burning skin and it was easy enough to keep him safe by timing his exposure until his skin was dark enough to prevent burning, but our second child has fairer skin and would burn in a minute so was covered up well and very gently exposed to the sun over time and she would eventually tan.
Now that I know more about how the skin and sun exposure works, I continue to ensure she gets controlled exposure before the summer holiday and full on daily sun worshipping kicks in but what seems to make all the difference is her diet. She gets grassfed Jersey raw milk and butter, as do we all, and this one change in the past couple of years has meant her skin just doesn’t burn, despite being fair. She got her first decent tan this summer.
Sunscreen – what’s the damage?
Vitamin D deficiency – does it affect you?
Why my family loves lard – a great source of Vitamin D!
The surprising cause of melanoma (and no, it’s not too much sun), – Dr. Mercola
Photo credit: EarthTimes.org