Risks and dangers of little or no sun exposure

 For years we have been warned about the dangers of over exposure to sunlight. Only recently has it emerged that under exposure can also lead to serious health problems.  What happens if we get too little sunlight?


First, sunlight is the main source of vitamin D. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ vitamin D is a steroid with hormone like activity.  It regulates the function of over 200 genes and is essential for growth and development.  A deficiency in Vitamin D has been linked to prostate and breast cancer, depression, memory loss, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, brittle bones and rickets. In men, research has shown that a vitamin D deficiency can double the risk of developing heart disease. Moderate sun exposure is the primary source of vitamin D for most humans.  It is very difficult to obtain sufficient amounts from just food, as vitamin D is not found in high quantities naturally.  Fortified foods are equally inadequate in meeting the recommended daily amount


Secondly, sunlight supplies our bodies with Nitric Oxide (NO). NO is important as it helps the human body regulate essential physiological processes.  For instance, it helps keep our metabolism to run properly and prevents overeating and obesity. It also protects the heart by relaxing blood vessels and lowering your blood pressure.


Thirdly, modern life demands that we spend more time indoors working on computers, watching TV, looking at smart phones. Artificial light that is emitted from these electronics can cause sleep problems, restlessness and even insomnia as our internal clock is thrown off its natural rhythm.  Sleep is also essential to keeping our immune system working. Less sleep, due to less natural sunlight, impairs our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to illness and infection.


Vitamin D deficiency is a global problem on a pandemic level.  Over a billion people worldwide are Vitamin D deficient. Across all continents, in all ethnic groups, and all ages. Research indicates that as much as three-quarters of American adults are vitamin D deficient. In Europe, this figure is much higher with an estimated 70% of the population lacking vitamin D.  Also in regions that have an abundance of sunshine like the Middle East are reporting some of the lowest levels of vitamin D.  For people living in the northern Hemisphere in places like Britain and Scandinavia, getting enough vitamin D from the sun is difficult during the autumn and winter months.  To absorb enough Vitamin D to effectively prevent against serious diseases, people in these places need at least 5-30 minutes of sunlight on bare skin at least a few times a week. 


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