Sun Exposure: What are the Effects on Our Health?
As a lupus patient, I’ve always been told to avoid the sun. So initially, I was so obsessed with sun avoidance that I would use umbrellas, wide brimmed hats, and long sleeve tops in the middle of summer months.
As a twenty something, young grad student, this did a number on my self confidence.
As many of you know I’ve just gotten back from California for a family wedding and a much needed vacation in Malibu.
I grew up in California and left in 2003 with the birth of my older son.
Prior to that, my life in California was a rough one. Diagnosed with lupus just 5 years prior, most of my memory of California is very dark and sad.
The weather in California is amazing all 12 months of the year. To be told to avoid the sun meant I had to give up all the recreational activities I enjoyed.
It’s been 5 years since my last flare and I’ve never felt better. My prognostic lupus panel that I advocate, AVISE testing, tells me that my lupus is under full control almost to a point of non existence.
Malibu has beautiful mountains to hike and beautiful beaches to explore. So we did just that and I have a golden tan from all the exposure to the sun.
Of course, I wore a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to avoid premature aging on my face, but I wasn’t donning a long sleeve shirt.
Rather, I felt at ease with wearing tank tops, shorts, and bathing suits at the beach, without the need for the umbrella.
I was sensible about the sun. We were hiking early in the mornings and hanging out at the beaches during late afternoons, when the sun rays weren’t so strong.
But I felt great and still feel great.
I have to say, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life.
But the key was in making the effort to get to this place. I was tenacious about beating this thing that threatened my livelihood and my existence.
I refused to succumb to this disease and disagreed with the conventional methods that are readily prescribed for my condition.
While hiking, I felt a sense of deep gratitude and humbleness.
So today I live to challenge the inherent limitations that the diagnosis of disease puts on those of us who live with chronic illness.
Most of us avoid the sun due to cancer risks, premature aging, and other medical reasons.
Our lifestyle today is not conducive to getting sun exposure, especially for our kids generation, due to so much dependence on our technological devices.
Vitamin D is synthesized when our skin is exposed to the sun. While it can be obtained from foods and supplements, vitamin D is made in our skin upon exposure to UVB radiation from sunlight.
Because of the increased incidence of skin cancer, there’s been a huge shift in the way people expose themselves to the sun.
Key is always balance.
Importance of Vitamin D
It’s estimated that up to 90% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.
I’ve been told to avoid the sun, take the meds, and come for a follow up.
Never have I had any one Rheumatologist ask me about my diet, vitamin D status, or express concern about my muscle mass.
Yet when you’re not exposed to the sun, you will be in danger for a number of other conditions.
Most experts now are recommending getting about 10-15 minutes of sunlight daily without wearing sunscreen.
What are Some Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency?
We know that there is plenty of evidence showing that people with vitamin D deficiency are at an increased risk of developing health complications, metabolic dysfunction, and various immune disorders.
And according to several scientific studies, vitamin D deficiency can be linked to the following symptoms: (1)
- Chronic fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
- Immune system dysfunction
- Unexplained inflammatory symptoms
Specific conditions associated with vitamin d deficiency are:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Mood disorders
- Inflammatory conditions, like arthritis
- Chronic pain
- Autism spectrum disorders
It’s especially important for me to weigh why I’m told to avoid the sun against what happens when we’re deficient in this essential vitamin.
Conventional medicine is far behind in terms of utilizing natural order as the first line of defense against treatment of all disease or symptoms.
I think we complicate the situation unnecessarily, focusing on the problem as opposed to focusing on the solution.
Solution is always about achieving balance.
How Do You Get Enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is available in various foods. But due to the risks with sun exposure, I would recommend that you supplement especially if you have the above symptoms or conditions.
Prior to supplementation, I highly recommend that you get your levels checked. It’s not a common test that is done, so you’d have to ask for it.
Once you check it, I’d like my patients to be at at least 65 ng/mL.
Typical cut off point is 35 ng/mL, which tends to be in the lower limits of normal.
However, it’s important to know that if you are within the normal range, even if it’s lower limits of normal, then your doctor will likely dismiss those levels.
Because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it’s not easily excreted if there’s an excess of it, there’s a risk for toxicity. This is why most doctors shy away from providing more.
There are many physicians that check vitamin D levels, but my personal rheumatologist never checked it unless I asked, and even then told me to take the minimum dose when I was significantly low.
I hope this message empowers you to not let your medical diagnoses or symptoms get in the way of you living the life you love.
About the Author
Dr. Connie has suffered from Lupus for the last 16 years. As a result, she discovered that a holistic minded approach to health was most beneficial for herself in battling Lupus and for her patients, who battle everything from Autoimmune Disease to Weight Loss. Dr. Connie holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and a Masters in Public Health (Nutrition) from the renowned Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions. She is also a Registered and Licensed Dietitian in the State of Georgia. Additionally, Dr. Connie is a Functional Medicine Practitioner (Certification Pending 2017), a Registered RYT-200 Yoga Teacher & School (Yoga Alliance) and Certified Pilates Teacher (Pilates Method Alliance).