Beat lower back pain, increase longevity, and more…
I always encourage getting outside in Nature and soaking in some direct sunlight. After all, it’s an easy way to naturally trigger your skin’s production of vitamin D, which your body makes when it’s exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. And this crucial vitamin protects you against just about every chronic disease on the planet.
So this month, as we experience the summer solstice (when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky in the northern hemisphere), I thought it would be a great time to discuss some exciting new findings about the many health benefits of both sunshine and vitamin D.
These new studies have enormous health implications.
Not only do they address some of the most common and chronic conditions Americans face, but one study even demonstrates how sunshine is a great disinfectant—which is more important than ever in the age of COVID-19.
So, let’s dive right in…
New research sheds light on an age-old problem
Fifteen years ago, my final federal medical research grant was to organize and lead a worldwide team of scientists in performing a massive investigation of the thousands of studies on treatment of lower back pain.
This research was vital because lower back pain afflicts nearly 80 percent of American men and women at least once during their lives1. In fact, it’s the leading cause of pain and disability in working people. And for many people, back pain becomes a chronic condition that leads to harmful drug treatments and surgery.
Our research found clear evidence that surgery and pharmaceuticals were the worst approaches for lower back pain. Indeed, surgery fails so often that at the time of our study, doctors who performed back surgery couldn’t get medical malpractice insurance in states like Pennsylvania.
I even met with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to provide our data on the alternatives for back pain that are safe and effective, including spinal manual therapy, acupuncture, and massage.
But we didn’t know at that time that a treatment as simple as vitamin D supplementation could also work for back pain, because nobody had researched that question—until now.
Can D finally end debilitating back pain?
The first new study involved 65 overweight or obese men and women who were deficient in D.2
The researchers randomly divided the participants into two groups. The first group took an initial oral dose of 100,000 IU of vitamin D followed by 4,000 IU daily for 16 weeks (for once, a study actually used a reasonable dose). The second group took a placebo.
The researchers also measured participants’ vitamin D levels and self-reported back pain scores at the beginning and end of the study.
After 16 weeks, even the men and women with the lowest vitamin D blood levels at the beginning of the study had a significantly greater reduction in back pain scores, compared with the placebo group.
In the second study, researchers measured vitamin D blood levels in more than 200 postmenopausal women, with an average age of 66.2 The women were grouped into two broad categories:
- Those who had a “severe” vitamin D deficiency—with blood levels below 10 ng/mL
- Those who had “normal status”—with levels above 30 ng/mL (though, as you may recall, this is much lower than the 50 to 60 ng/mL that recent studies show as the optimal level—for more information, see the sidebar on page 3)
The researchers found that, compared with the women in the “normal” group, the women in the “severe deficiency” group had lower bone mineral-density scores, higher back pain scores, and more severe lumbar disc degeneration. And the lower their vitamin D levels, the greater the disc degeneration.
The researchers also noted that vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in postmenopausal women. And they think D may help with lower back pain because of the vitamin’s beneficial effects on nerve and muscle pain, muscle strength and mass, and inflammation.
In the end, these two studies make the case that you can avoid—and even reverse—lower back pain by achieving and maintaining optimal vitamin D blood levels through proper supplementation.
D can get you up and walking again after a hip fracture
Optimal levels of vitamin D are essential for bone health, so it only makes sense that D would help your back. And a new study shows the vitamin is also important for healing from hip fractures.4
The study involved 290 men and women, ages 65 and older, who recently had surgery for a broken hip. Researchers measured the participants’ vitamin D levels and walking ability 30 days and 60 days into the study. The goal was to walk about 10 feet without help.
The researchers discovered that the people with vitamin D levels greater than just 12 ng/mL had better walking ability throughout the study period. So just imagine the potential improvement that could be gained through achieving higher, optimal blood levels (50 to 60 ng/mL)!
In addition to its impact on bone and muscle health, D has also been shown to have direct effects on the brain and other organ systems—all of which are important for good walking ability.
So, as always, I recommend “doubling up” on your vitamin D by taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day and getting some sun exposure.
Especially since research also shows there are many benefits to sunshine beyond helping your body make your daily dose of D…
The benefits of sunshine beyond vitamin D
It’s always been understood that natural daylight is important for general health and well-being (compared to indoor spaces with artificial lighting). But a recent study shows that sunlight can have health impacts even when you’re indoors.5
And that’s great news, since many people spend most of their time inside—especially when there are “shelter in place” and “social distancing” directives in place. But indoor dust can carry numerous microbes, including some that can make us sick.
To determine sunlight’s effect on these microbes, Oregon researchers set up a group of dollhouse-size rooms and exposed them to either sunlight or no light at all.
After 90 days, the researchers found that the sunlit rooms contained about half as many live microbes as the dark rooms. And the sunny rooms had almost no bacteria that cause respiratory infections.
In addition, the bacteria that survived in the sunlit rooms were the same as those found in outdoor air. Meaning that if you can’t get outside, staying inside in a sunny room can still have beneficial health effects. Because, as I’ve often reported, you can benefit tremendously from the exposure to certain probiotic bacteria found in Nature—like naturally enhancing your mood. (Just not those bacteria generated by the annoying, dangerous and useless gas-powered blowers and mowers, as I discussed in the March issue.)
Sunlight and your microbiome
Another way sunlight can help keep you healthy is by boosting the health of your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome. (For more about your microbiome, see page 4.)
A new pilot study from the University of British Columbia, in Canada, tested the effects of exposing skin to the UV light found in sunshine.6 The study involved 21 healthy women, ages 19 to 40, who had insufficient vitamin D levels.
Each woman underwent three one-minute sessions of full-body UV exposure per week. Researchers then collected blood and fecal samples in order to analyze the women’s vitamin D levels and GI microbiome composition.
Results showed that after just those three minutes of UV light exposure in one week, the women’s vitamin D blood levels increased an average of 10 percent!
Researchers also found changes in the women’s GI microbiome, including more diversity of bacteria and more “good” probiotics. Specifically, these probiotics are linked to improved health status in people with immune and inflammatory diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.
Sunshine lowers blood pressure
The final new study analyzed the ability of the sun’s UV rays to lower blood pressure.7
In addition to creating vitamin D, previous studies have found that sunlight on the skin releases nitric oxide into the bloodstream. This effect has wide-ranging benefits, including reducing blood pressure.
The new study analyzed 342,000 patients from more than 2,000 kidney dialysis clinics throughout the U.S. (People undergoing dialysis typically visit these clinics three times a week, and each time they have their blood pressure measured—making them good subjects for blood pressure studies.)
Researchers took blood pressure data from the study participants over a three-year period. Then, they analyzed weather data to estimate daily sun exposure for each of the clinic locations.
Results showed that overall, the patients who had exposure to UV sunlight had lower systolic blood pressure (the first number on a blood pressure reading).
There were also marked differences in blood pressures by season—higher in winter, lower in summer. But the variances weren’t all explained by vitamin D levels, because taking vitamin D supplements did not eliminate the seasonal effect. Nor were the variances all explained by weather temperature—which also influences blood pressure—because only half of the seasonal variations were due to temperature.
Rather, researchers found that UV exposure alone influenced some of these findings—something that the lead author called “really exciting.”
So, the takeaway here is simple: Go out and get some sun this summer. Use discretion and avoid sunburn, of course, but don’t be afraid of direct UV rays. I always recommend spending 10 to 15 minutes each day in the sun without sunscreen.
After all, there’s a reason why the Greeks made Apollo the god of both sun and healing. Sunshine is essential for life—and one of the bright spots for human health.
Thank the “anti-sun worshippers” for the low-vitamin D epidemic
Millions of Americans don’t get enough vitamin D, thanks in part to dermatologists’ misguided warnings to scrupulously avoid regular sun exposure. But thankfully, science is starting to show just how protective and beneficial regular sun exposure really is.
In fact, research shows the risks of skin cancer from excess sun exposure are less serious than we were led to believe, while the health benefits of sun exposure are greater than the experts admitted.
That’s why I recommend spending 10 to 15 minutes a day outside—without sunscreen—and exposing as much skin as possible.
But if you’re unable to do that, supplementing with vitamin D also boosts your blood levels of this essential nutrient.
Just don’t listen to the supposed “experts” at the U.S. Institute of Medicine. Their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 600-800 IU of vitamin D is woefully inadequate and outdated. In recent years, researchers have found that the optimal dose of vitamin D is more than 10 times that amount—10,000 IU per day.
Yet, many doctors still harbor an irrational fear about “toxicity” or “overdose” at this level. (I know because, years ago, I was brainwashed into believing some of these baseless concerns, too.) But remember, as I explained in the May 2018 Insiders’ Cures newsletter, the way vitamin D is measured makes the doses seem way higher than they are.
In fact, let’s put the optimal daily dose of vitamin D into perspective by considering this simple comparison: 10,000 IU of vitamin D = 0.25 milligrams (mg).
So as you can see, 10,000 IU is pretty miniscule when compared to the doses of other nutrients. For example, the RDA of vitamin C (which is also too low) is almost 200 times higher than that amount—at 46 mg!
Plus, as I reported in the September 2019 issue, you can count the actual cases of clinical toxicity associated with vitamin D on your fingers. And they all occurred under circumstances so rare and unusual, the vast majority of doctors won’t encounter them even once in their lifetimes.
So ask your doctor to check your vitamin D blood levels twice a year—at the end of winter and again at the beginning of fall (after a summer with some fun in the sun). Remember, you’ll want to achieve blood levels of 50 to 60 ng/mL. And I always recommend supplementing with 10,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 to help reach those optimal levels.
2“Vitamin D supplementation may improve back pain disability in vitamin D deficient and overweight or obese adults.” J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2019 Jan;185:212-217.
3“Does vitamin D status influence lumbar disc degeneration and low back pain in postmenopausal women?” A retrospective single-center study. Menopause. 2020 Feb 10.
4“Vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced mobility after hip fracture surgery: a prospective study.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqaa029.
5“Daylight exposure modulates bacterial communities associated with household dust.” Microbiome 6, 175 (2018).
6“Skin Exposure to Narrow Band Ultraviolet (UVB) Light Modulates the Human Intestinal Microbiome.” Front Microbiol. 2019 Oct 24;10:2410.
7“Does Incident Solar Ultraviolet Radiation Lower Blood Pressure?” Journal of the American Heart Association. 2020;9:e013837.