By Carole Baggerly, GrassrootsHealth
I would like to share some information not about how sun exposure produces vitamin D, but some of its other benefits. It is healthy to have regular, non-burning sun exposure. It is also counter-culture right now, so this is likely not the same message about sun exposure you are used to seeing.
Richard Weller, MD, FRCP, University of Edinburgh, is a dermatologist with a research interest in the interaction of sun exposure and health. In his TED talk, Could the sun be good for your heart? he considers epidemiologic data about vitamin D as a marker for sun exposure and goes on to argue that there are additional benefits from the sun, especially for cardiovascular disease.
One of these benefits is an increase in nitric oxide, which our bodies produce in response to sun exposure. Nitric oxide helps to dilate blood vessels which lower blood pressure, and to dilate coronary arteries which stops angina.
After studying nitric oxide in mouse models and humans he came to realize that stable precursors of nitric oxide (nitrate, nitrite) are stored in the biggest organ of the body, the skin. It is designed to be released, and flow abundantly in the body, after sun exposure – a natural event that occurs daily. In experiments, he used sunlamps so that he could expose the skin of volunteers to ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and not ultraviolet B, which is responsible for vitamin D production. He confirmed that skin exposure to UVA resulted in increased nitric oxide levels in the blood and reduced overall blood pressure.
Weller goes on to explain how the amount of nitric oxide released varies at different latitudes and different times of year – illustrating very little nitric oxide production in Britain in the winter which he surmises accounts for the higher rate of health issues the farther away from the equator.
Weller concludes his talk by acknowledging that although “sunlight is the major alterable risk factor for skin cancer,” the risk of death from heart disease is far greater than the risk of death from skin cancer and a greater effort should be made to “find the risk-benefit ratio.”
Nitric oxide production is just one of the benefits of regular, non-burning sun exposure. Vitamin D production is another. While we don’t have an at home test kit for nitric oxide in the blood, we do have one for vitamin D. To see how much vitamin D is being produced from your regular sun exposure, please visit GrassrootsHealth.net and look at our D*action project. Having enough vitamin D in your system is a health hack that could prevent disease, improve brain function, or speed recovery. It is fast and easy to learn your blood level, while also joining a world-wide study on the benefits of vitamin D.