Summertime is full of good things: snacking on slices of cool, sweet watermelon by the side of the pool, dining on the patio while the sun is still in the sky, enjoying time with people you love while everyone’s schedule is more relaxed.
Special energy and joy fill the long summer days that doesn’t compare to other times of the year. But did you know that there’s a scientific explanation for the happy vibes of summer, and it has to do with sunlight? Sun-kissed skin not only looks good, it feels good and it is good for your body for a host of reasons.
When the sun shines ultraviolet radiation B (UVB) our way, a magical process called dermal vitamin synthesis occurs, and vitamin D is the star of the show. While vitamin D can be ingested through food and supplements, the most efficient (and pleasant!) way to increase vitamin D levels in the body is through moderate and frequent direct exposure to sunlight.
The sun’s photons break the chemical bonds of a cholesterol-like substance stored in our skin, 7-dehydrocholesterol, converting it to vitamin D3. After this, D3 is transported to the liver and kidneys where it is synthesized into its final form: calcitriol.
A vitamin-D binding protein call DPB transports calcitriol to organs throughout the body where it rolls up its tiny vitamin sleeves and gets to work. This over-achieving nutrient is responsible for many life-giving functions in the body. Here are a few things that it accomplishes:
- Strengthens bones through balancing calcium and phosphate
- Maintains nervous system functions
- Helps DNA express a variety of genes in the body
- Boosts immune health
- Wards off depression
- Regulates insulin levels
- Supports lung and cardiovascular health
- Helps with serotonin production
Whew! Makes you want to throw on a swimsuit, grab a lawn chair, and head outside, right?
Sadly, over 40% of the U.S. population is vitamin deficient DURING the summer months, and that number increases in the winter months. This miraculous process of sun-synthesized vitamin D explains why the flu spreads more easily in the winter and why many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – depression and anxiety that strike when it’s cold and dark outside.
Just as vitamin D works wonders in our bodies, a chronic lack of vitamin D causes scary damage, such as:
– Hair loss
– Muscle pain
– Impaired wound healing
– Pain in the bones
– Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s
Vitamin D deficiencies are usually caused by our predominantly sedentary, indoor lifestyles. When we are exposed to the sun, we tend to cover up our skin with sunblock, eliminating 95% of the body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from UVB rays.
Important disclaimer: Be careful about excessive sun exposure. Allowing the sun to burn your skin is never a healthy choice and can lead to dangerous DNA damage and skin cancer. It also causes long-term dryness and more wrinkles. Be mindful of your skin type. Fair-skinned people with less tolerance for sunlight require less exposure, and darker-skinned people benefit from more exposure. Moderate and frequent sun exposure is the best way to meet your body’s vitamin D needs. Most people can synthesize plenty of vitamin D by sitting outside in the sun on their lunch break.
The sun has an impressive job description. It keeps our solar system in orbit, provides energy for all of earth’s plants to engage in photosynthesis, marks the days and nights, and keeps our atmosphere warmed perfectly to sustain life. As if that weren’t enough, this yellow dwarf star that’s 92 million miles away has a magical touch that provides an essential life nutrient to 7.5 billion people on our little earth.
Next time you’re headed to the pool or the lake, remember the sweet summertime gift that the sun bestows, working an everyday miracle.