The global lockdown may not have eradicated Covid-19. But the pause in regularly scheduled activity did awaken many to the importance of immunity and preventative health. Much of the population is increasingly questioning their own understanding of these topics. And seeking ways to stay healthy amidst conflicting information.
Though it will take an entire library of data to expound on the intricacies of human health and wellness. One BIG topic deserves special attention. The Sun – and the active ingredient it helps us produce – Vitamin D.
Vitamin D3 generated by our bodies through a biochemical process that occurs during sun exposure. In this way, vitamin D connects humanity to our sunbaked ecosystem from the time of our earliest appearance on Earth. Some 300,000 years ago.
The process by which we generate and utilize vitamin D3 involves the absorption of UVB rays by our skin and creating previtamin D3. Previtamin D3 then travels to the liver and kidneys where it begins to metabolize. Forming the bioavailable and beneficial form of vitamin D3 that we know and need. Amazingly, overexposure to the sun will not create an excess of vitamin D3. Previtamin D3 that’s not needed by our body Begins to biodegrade into other compounds recently found to be beneficial.
It is important to understand this basic part of the biochemical process to know the difference between vitamin D3 sourced from the sun, vs. sourced from food or nutritional supplements. As we will find out, there is no easy substitution for the sun!
The research to come to this understanding is incredibly rich and dates back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
With an increase in bone deformities and mental disabilities, appearing in Northern inner-city children. Scientists began to examine environmental links before coming to the startling realization. Children born in densely built cities, with narrow streets that obscure sunlight, were far more likely diagnosed with what is now called rickets. Furthermore, administering vitamin D3 to rachitic children saw noticeable improvements in bone density within a few weeks of treatment.
By the turn of the 20th century it was estimated that upwards of 90% of children living in Northern Europe and in the Northeastern United States had rickets. A disease now largely eradicated with a greater understanding of the role played by vitamin D3. Cancer rates have shown to increase with the distance North and South of the equator. A fact now linked to sun deficiency.
It comes as no surprise that indigenous cultures populating the far Northern reaches of our planet historically lives well adapted to vitamin D deficiency. Exhibiting neither higher rates of rickets nor cancer. This adaptation is largely attributed to the consumption of large amounts of oily fish, seal blubber, polar bear liver, and whale blubber and liver. All of which contain high amounts of vitamin D.
Vitamin D, however, is not the only positive effect received from (sensible) sun exposure.
Other photo products such as lumisterols and suprasterols have shown evidence of protecting us from certain cancers and infections. Anecdotally, the magic of the sun was on full display during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic.
During that time, health workers saw astounding results when patients were outside to recover under the sun. Some numbers point to a 40% greater chance of recovery when patients were prescribed “time outside.” In fact, it was not until the advent of antibiotics in the mid-1940s that infectious disease wards stopped relying on sunlight and fresh air as the preferred treatment.
Initial results from the COVID-19 post-mortem tests have shown some 96% of mortalities had vitamin D deficiency. Likewise, darker skin types require more vitamin D than lighter skin types. Which could help explain the higher COVID mortality rates of African Americans compared to the rest of the country. Likewise, data has shown the black population of the United Kingdom is up to 4x more likely to die from COVID-19, adjusted for socio-economic variables.
Due to the positive and still ambiguous holistic effects of the sun beyond vitamin D, it is prudent to not rely solely on vitamin D3 supplements for your health and wellness. Physically spending time outside under the sun is imperative to optimal human health and wellbeing.
Seizing the day is of paramount importance!
The angle of the sun or the distance it takes light energy to travel down to Earth is the main determinant of the amount of vitamin D humans can produce. Places such as Boston, on the 42nd parallel, only have enough sunlight to produce vitamin D from March to October. While parts of Canada, Norway, and Patagonia, past the 55th North or South latitude, may only have six months of usable sunlight.
Other factors that contribute to natural vitamin D creation include the time of day and pollution levels. The sun is typically at the optimal angle to aid us in our vitamin D production from the hours of 10 AM to 3 PM. Likewise, cities whose atmospheres contain high levels of nitrous oxide or ozone due to air pollution will absorb much of the photon-energy needed to produce vitamin D3.
No way intended about these facts into disheartening you about the state of natural vitamin D production in today’s harsh reality! On the contrary, this article is to inspire you to spend more time in the sun when you can. Frolic and get supercharged by the magic – much like our animal and plant relatives. While doing so, remember that it could take as little as 10 minutes to burn. Depending on the season, latitude, time of day, and your skin type.
In Part II of this series, we will explore natural sunblocks that allow for healthy vitamin D production. While minimizing the chance of skin damage due to overexposure.
Leo Kotlyar is the founder and president of DéWarrior Unlimited. A strategy and sustainability consulting company working to transform the way businesses grow through scalable sustainable development.