Getting Enough Sun? The Link Between Sunlight and Perfect Health
You eat good, get a decent amount of exercise, even meditate a little and take the occasional spa day, yet you still feel “off.” You’re not alone: many of us in the West suffer from what could only possibly be deemed “malaise” – yet, it has a scientific name: Vitamin D deficiency. The real question you want to ask yourself if you feel under the weather is, “am I getting enough sun?”
This is a topic we rarely speak about, but Vitamin D deficiency is actually near endemic-levels in the West. Upwards to 42% of adults suffer from at least mild Vitamin D deficiency. The symptoms can range from a general malaise, to aches and pains, hair loss, fatigue, and depression, to an entirely compromised immune system.
Unfortunately, doctors rarely diagnose Vitamin D deficiency properly. If you report pain, you’re liable to get pain relievers. If you report depression, you’re liable to get depression medication or a recommendation for a therapist. If you report fatigue, you’re likely to be told to take a general multivitamin or be given a powerful sleep-aid. These are not viable answers if you are looking to heal your body. The problem is, doctors in our current medical system are trained to treat symptoms, thus unless you get extensive blood work as a part of your doctor’s visit, you’re unlikely to discover your deficiency in the first place. So what IS the answer if you are suffering from any of these symptoms?
The sun, of course.
Our Bodies Crave Sunlight
Plants aren’t the only living things on this planet that desire sunlight. In fact, many animals also need the light from the sun in order to be truly healthy. Animals that evolved close to the equator, such as human beings and most monkey and ape species, are definitely a part of this demographic. Vitamin D is one of those nutrients that cells require in order to function correctly – without it, many different facets of the body weaken and malfunction. The only natural way human beings evolved to get Vitamin D is by exposing themselves to sunlight, it is not present in vegetable matter, and only trace amounts can be found in the fatty portions of some animals, such as fish. Based on our biology and where humans originated from, it is clear that we were meant to spend most of our waking hours absorbing sunlight.
We’ve become accustomed to living our modern lifestyle and believing that we can get everything we need in terms of nutrients right from a vitamin. Well, there are countless phyto-nutrients and trace substances found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds that are simply not in vitamins. Furthermore, many of the nutrients found in vitamins are altered or synthetic forms that our bodies cannot break down and absorb as easily, or at all. Hence why it is so crucial to eat a diverse, plant-based diet. But even that isn’t the complete picture, because if you look at our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom, it is clear that we were meant to bask in sunlight in order to properly thrive.
Don’t think a few thousands years of living in semi-darkness inside of buildings has altered our DNA to the point where somehow we don’t need the suns rays. Quite the contrary, sunlight is still the primary means by which we obtain Vitamin D, and in order to be truly healthy, we absolutely need plenty of this vitamin. There simply is no substitute.
The issue is, we can only make so much use of the “artificial” Vitamin D that is found in multivitamins, fortified cereals, and milks. Does it help? Yes, but our bodies are designed to get it from sunlight. Our cells are not designed to extract it from food. These are two different processes. There is a reason why almost half the population of the United States is deficient in Vitamin D, despite how much fortified milk and cereal we consume, and how many vitamins we take. It’s because our bodies prefer to synthesize Vitamin D from our exposure to the sun. Getting it in other forms is contrary to how our body functions, and is therefore extremely inefficient at best.
Living Naturally For Optimal Health
We’re used to calorie crunching and making sure we follow those “nutrition fact” labels for an almost religious micro-management of our bodily needs, but this is not the path to health. Many factors go into what makes for a truly healthy lifestyle. For example, you can be getting a decent amount of nutrients from your diet, but your body will age faster and weaken if you don’t exercise and move around regularly. Likewise, if you think you can be perfectly healthy without being outdoors and under the sun, you’re quite mistaken.
If you want to really get to the bottom of what it means to be healthy, you have to take a step back from our society and its customs, and place humankind back into nature, so to speak. If we’re talking about the evolutionary process that finely honed each and every one of our “parts” over the course of millions upon millions of years, you can’t fulfill the needs of this human organism by giving it an artificial, stilted diet, chemical “nutrients”, and a life apart from the outside world.
Our place in nature is an important aspect of health that is often ignored. It’s proven, for example, that exposure to the outdoors cures depression. This is due to several factors, including Vitamin D production from sun exposure, increases in adrenaline and mood lifting hormones, and the subconscious comfort of being back where we belong, among other things. Another instance of this is found when we consider the Vitamin B12, which we ordinarily would be getting from exposure to dirt. In nature, it would be exceedingly common for us to consume trace amounts of dirt (as all animals do while licking themselves or eating plant matter from the ground), and this is how we “evolved” to ingest the vitamin, which we need in order to function correctly. We may be used to thinking that we do not need the outdoors, and that we have left our “animal ways” behind, but our bodies tell a different story.
As it pertains to sunlight, we are equatorial animals, originating from the tropics and subtropics of Africa and the Middle East. We are fruit-eating monkeys that most likely spent the majority of their waking hours in trees. While we don’t have the thick hides to withstand the harsh desert sun for hours on end without shade, we almost certainly are supposed to be exposed to the suns rays indirectly throughout the entirety of the daylight hours. We would have most likely sought the shade of trees on hot days, as chimpanzees and bonobos do, but even in those conditions, our body’s are still at work creating Vitamin D.
This new-found idea that the sun is bad for us is yet another example of modern medical science’s heart being in the right place, but missing the mark completely. Part of the reason why our skin is so weak to begin with is that from an early age…we’re not exposed to the sun. We’re coddled in shady places for the majority of our life until we are about 2 to 3 years of age, and only then are we allowed out into the sun lathered in sunblock like a lab experiment. No wonder kids get sun-burnt so easily these days, their skin has not built up its strength. Go back a couple hundred years, before sunblock was even invented, and people worked outside in the blistering sun for the majority of daylight hours, and there’s nary a case of skin cancer to be seen. This is because of a combination of factors: our weakened immune systems, poor nutritional intake, and our low defenses against the sun because of being artificially segregated from it as babies.
We wonder as a culture why we are all so sick, but as children, we are born into extremely unnatural circumstances. Our genes, our DNA, are ready and primed to help us grow into strong, healthy, versatile animals from the second we are born, given the right conditions. When we are born, we are asking, “where is our mother’s milk?”, “where is the sunlight?”, “where is the constant contact of my parents?” The benefits of life that most mammals are given as a rule are luxuries for human babies. This is the beginning of our poor health.
How can a child get its proper Vitamin D without being exposed to the sun? Fortified cow’s milk? That’s what we’re supposed to be giving human kids? I don’t think so. These unnatural substances play hell with children’s immune systems and bodies, creating all kinds of unnatural ailments, hormone spurts, allergies, and susceptibilities to colds and inflammations. No, a child is supposed to get its Vitamin D from the sun. Period. End of story. Not from Sunny D, not from cow’s milk, not from chewable vitamins, not from chemically-infused baby food. The sun. Like our ancestors have done for tens of millions of years, like we evolved specifically to do.
When you view health through the lens of natural living, everything falls into place and makes a lot more sense. It’s more than a mindset or perspective, it’s the acceptance that while we may know the chemical composition of a fruit, and we may know how to replicate those chemicals in a lab and stick them into a “vitamin” pill, at the end of the day it’s still more healthy and beneficial for our bodies to eat the fruit rather than the pill. That way we get the water, the fiber, and the phyto-nutrients necessary in order to digest and absorb the vitamins and minerals properly. It’s not rocket-science, but rather the bold-faced definition of common sense. But sometimes it takes a little stepping outside the box to see it.
Getting Optimal Amounts of Sunlight for Maximum Vitamin D
Experts say that you really only need about ten minutes in the full, midday summer sun to produce an adequate amount of Vitamin D. If you regularly spend time outside, without going to great lengths to cover your body, you are probably in the clear. However, this on its surface is an arbitrarily short amount of time to be spending outside. Not many animals spent a mere 15 minutes a day in direct sunlight. But if you notice, many animals do not just sit out in the middle of direct sunlight and “bake” like we tend to do, such as when sunbathing.
Instead of deciding that every day at noon you should stand in the middle of a parking lot and cook yourself for 15 minutes, try and get outside in small intervals throughout the day. On days when you can manage it, spend 30 to 40 minutes in direct or nearly direct sunlight, but don’t do it all in one sitting. Just go about your business, read a book, listen to music, ride a bike, do yoga, jog. The key thing is to get outside, expose your skin, and build up a minute amount of natural resistance. Over the span of a week or two you will find that your mood will improve significantly as well as your overall health, as your body raises its amounts of Vitamin D.
Don’t feel you have to get anymore than about a half hour of sunlight a day, especially if you are really used to spending all day every day indoors and currently suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Take your time and gradually expose your skin, allowing it to adjust and strengthen. Over time, you will be able to spend longer periods outdoors without the need for sunblock, and you will also ensure that your body will be getting an adequate amount of Vitamin D. This is the natural, easy solution. Not supplements, not fortified foods, just simple old sunlight.
Our Skin is an Organ
It’s important to keep in mind, if you’re seeking perfect health, you have to get acquainted with all of the parts of the body and what they evolved to do. For millions upon millions of years, our species had no dwellings, no “shelter.” We lived outside like any other animal, and even once we developed shelters (a rather recent invention compared to the length we’ve been around as a species), it’s not like we spent all day inside them cooped up.
In fact, the original purpose for shelters was to actually avoid harsh weather such as rain and snow, not sunlight. When the sun was out, that was the time to hunt, work the fields, explore, thrive. We are not, in any way, a nocturnal species of animal. Our bodies developed a means of obtaining Vitamin D through chemical reaction with the sun. This kind of no-nonsense, straightforward way of looking at things is needed if we are to reclaim our health (and sanity) as a species. Getting outside is essential to our health, it’s something our bodies crave and expect.
Our skin is generally considered an organ, our biggest in fact. It performs many duties, and one of them is absorbing sunlight for the purpose of synthesizing Vitamin D, a nutient we need in order to be healthy. It doesn’t get more simple than that! So give your body what it wants, and don’t get suckered into thinking the only way you can get Vitamin D is through fortified milk or some supplement. These are, at best, temporarily solutions. Lifestyle is what you are seeking to change in order to make lasting improvements on your health.
Want more information on getting a proper nutrition? Be sure to check out our piece on proper diet here.
Feel free to comment below if you have any experience with Vitamin D deficiency, or supplementing for Vitamin D. We’d love to hear from you!