This spring, I hope you find some time to bask in the warm, healthy sun. (As I write this Dispatch, I’m actually sitting out in the sun, smelling some of the floral fragrances in the air.)
This simple practice of sitting in the sun triggers your skin’s natural production of vitamin D after just 15 minutes.
That’s key—because most Americans are deficient in this all-important nutrient.
And, as you know, research links optimal levels of D to major health benefits…including reducing the risks of heart disease, cancer, and more.
But the benefits of sun exposure aren’t just limited to boosting vitamin D levels.
In fact, a trio of new studies show that spending time in the sun supports your health in several surprising ways. (No wonder the Greeks made Apollo the god of both sun and healing!)
Let’s talk about it…
Sun your way to LOWER blood pressure
There are scientific reasons why you feel more rested and relaxed after a day at the beach. One may have to do with the sun’s effect on blood pressure (BP)…
For this investigation, researchers analyzed BP readings over a three-year period for about 342,000 patients undergoing kidney dialysis. (People undergoing dialysis make good study participants because they typically have their BP readings taken three times a week before every treatment.)
The researchers also analyzed weather data over the same period to estimate daily sun exposure for each of the 2,000 clinic locations where the participants received treatment.
It turns out, the patients who had more exposure to ultraviolet (UV) sunlight had LOWER systolic blood pressure (the top number). And there were marked differences in BP by season.
In fact, BP readings were higher in winter (when there’s less UV exposure) and lower in summer (when there’s more UV exposure).
I should note that we can’t completely credit higher vitamin D levels in the summertime with the improvements in BP—because taking vitamin D supplements didn’t eliminate the seasonal effect.
Instead, the researchers think UV exposure, all by itself, triggers the skin’s production of nitric oxide (NO), a powerful chemical that causes blood vessels to dilate and reduces resistance to blood flow.
Of course, NO also acts in the brain stem to calm sympathetic stimulation, which reduces adrenalin and lowers BP. (That’s one reason why doctors give nitroglycerin as a fast, effective treatment for angina pectoris. It releases NO, which again, dilates the blood vessels that supply the heart. This action supplies more blood and oxygen to the starving heart muscle tissue.)
Now, let’s move on to a second study on sun exposure…
Enjoy more sunny days for a happier gut
Researchers from Canada (where the sun isn’t as strong as in the U.S.) tested the effect of UV light exposure on 21 healthy women, ages 19 to 40, with “insufficient” vitamin D levels.
The women received three, one-minute, full-body UV light sessions over a one-week period. In addition, they submitted blood samples (to measure vitamin D) and fecal samples (to analyze the bacteria in the gastrointestinal [GI] microbiome—the environment in your gut where billions of healthy bacteria thrive.)
It turns out, the women on average experienced a 10 percent increase in vitamin D levels.
But they also exhibited a somewhat surprising change in their GI tracts, too…
The fecal samples taken one week after UV light exposure showed the women also had more “good” bacteria—as well as a greater diversity of “good” bacteria—in their gut. That finding is key…because other research links a healthy GI microbiome with much less disease and aging overall.
Now, let’s move on to a third study on sunshine…
“Pull up the shades” on harmful respiratory bacteria
Researchers in Oregon looked at the effect of sunlight on indoor microbes. They exposed a group of doll-house-sized rooms to either sunlight or no light at all.
After 90 days, the sunlit rooms contained about half as many live microbes compared to the dark rooms. Plus, the rooms that got sunlight had almost no bacteria that could cause respiratory infections.
These findings indicated that simply “pulling up the shades” and letting sunshine into your home can benefit your health. Especially if you suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In the end, all three of these studies add to the growing wealth of research suggesting that you should do everything you can to INCREASE your daily sun exposure and to OPTIMIZE your vitamin D levels. It’s really not hard to do…
Make it a goal to spend at least 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen. You can gradually add more time each day. (When you’ll be outside longer, wear some protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses.)
In addition, make it a habit to keep your blinds and windows wide open when you can, to optimize the natural sunlight you let into your home.
And finally, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D blood levels twice a year—once toward the end of winter and again toward the end of summer. Ask for a simple blood test called the 25(OH)D (25-hydroxy vitamin D) test. (Optimal blood levels are between 50 and 75 ng/mL.)
Then, supplement with 250 mcg (10,000 IU) of vitamin D3 daily to maintain optimal levels year-round.
To learn more about the health-boosting effects of sunlight, check out the May 2017 issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Sunlight Breakthrough: Solar rays can boost your immunity year-round”). Not yet a subscriber? Click here to become one!