Are You Afraid of the Sun?

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Summer is here and it’s time to hit the beach (with a chilled bottle of white wine)! But is the sun good or bad for you? The answer is yes and yes.

We all know how sunlight enhances our mood. It encourages us to produce vitamin D, and protects us from seasonal mood changes. But because we also know the connection between skin cancer and sun damage, most of us have significantly reduced our exposure to natural sunlight.

Interestingly, vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin. It’s technically considered part of a group of fat-soluble hormones that we produce naturally (as do plants and other animals) in the presence of ultraviolet sunlight. Since all it takes is a little time in the sun, you’d think we’d have plenty of vitamin D… but we don’t.

Culture plays a big part. Here in Asia, instead of getting a sun tan, the trend (especially for women) is to be fair skinned and stay out of the sun. On the beach, people wear big hats and cover their skin with clothes as much as possible. White skin is associated with beauty, wealth and high class.

But in doing so, we have traded the risk factors of one disease for others. Lack of natural sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiency - which contributes to an increased risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Any decline in natural sunlight exposure and the resulting vitamin D absorption disrupts the natural body clock that controls the body’s gauge for sleeping and waking hours. Reduced melatonin and serotonin hormones — the chemicals released from the brain that control mood — are often partly to blame for SAD symptoms that lead to depression.

The good news is that in a recent landmark study by the University of Edinburgh, the researchers found that when sunlight touches our skin, a compound called nitric oxide which helps lower blood pressure, is released into our blood vessels. Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology, says the effect is such that overall, sun exposure could improve health and even prolong life, because the benefits of reducing blood pressure as well as cutting heart attacks and strokes far outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer.

So get out and get some sun to boost your vitamin D! How long do you stay out in the sun? When the condensation in your chilled glass of white wine has completely disappeared, then it’s time to cover up or get back indoors. Cheers!

 

Best of health,

Romy Sia

[email protected]