- Vitamin D - an important nutrient that acts more like a hormone in the body. We make it from a complex pathway that begins when our skin is exposed to sunlight. There are food sources as well: fatty fish (salmon, arctic char, rainbow trout), eggs and fortified dairy or dairy alternatives (in the D2 form), and liver. Supplementation is typically recommended in the winter months, in the D3 vitamin form. I suggest testing to know your levels. (1)
- beneficial for calcium balance, bone health, regulating inflammation, immune function, blood sugar metabolism
-> deficiency can be implicated in: cancer, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, infections, cardiovascular & neurological conditions, allergies, pregnancy complications like preeclampsia (2)
- Infrared light - from the sun, campfires, red light therapy devices or infrared saunas. Energy from the electromagnetic spectrum charges and structures our cells. Near, middle and far infrared rays are absorbed by mitochondria, heal wounds, increase collagen production, reduce inflammation, improve circulation, increase sweating & detoxification, reduce recovery time, benefit overall well-being.
- Circadian rhythm - the body's internal clock responds to light & dark exposure. Getting sun within an hour of waking up tells your body that it's time to be awake, and actually improves night time sleep. Conversely, minimize light exposure (blue light from screens too!) at least an hour before bed to trigger the release of melatonin for sleep. Remember, sleep is about recovery and repair.
How to get more sunlight?
I had a hilarious Pathology professor when I went to the University of Guelph, and I will never forget his lecture on the pathophysiology of sunburns. As a native Australian, he went to great lengths to tease Canadians on their behaviour the moment the first days of warmth and sun arrive in the spring. He described the joy, the almost desperate attempt to soak every last inch of skin in the sunlight after months of deprivation, to the point of extending fingers apart to tan the whites between the fingers. Of course every student was laughing at the accurate absurdity of it all, because of course we could relate. (I wonder how many others remember that lecture?). I was reminded of that moment yet again this weekend as I watched field lacrosse in the blazing sun, not daring to complain after months of cloud and chill and fog, but definitely coming out of the weekend with pink skin. Getting sunlight in a balanced way is possible, though:
- morning sunlight - one of my all time favourite prescriptions, getting sun exposure within an hour or two of waking up (or as soon as you can) is beneficial to your circadian clock, activates the cortisol awakening response, helps sleep and mood, and lessens the time spent in higher uva/uvb moments.
- pop outside for a moment on breaks or at lunchtime - whether you work in an office or at home, believe it or not, some people can go all day without seeing daylight. I have found those people to have an increased tendency to insomnia, depression, anxiety, asthma, weak immunity, pain and skin conditions.
- consider an infrared sauna or red light therapy session, plus vitamin D supplementation - if real sun isn't available to you (shift workers!), or during the winter months.
Being in the sun
Once you decide to be in the sun, here are some helpful things to do:
- cover or shade in peak hours - there are places you can look to see when the peak sunlight hits (like the Weather Network), but generally it's between 10am and 2pm, although I'm not always finding that to be accurate. If you're out during those times use a hat, clothing or shade for coverage.
- research your sun screen - yep, another product has been highlighted for their chemical ingredients posing health risk. Recently, benzene was in the news for its placement in dry shampoos, but it can also be in sunscreen so have a look at your labels. For help you can read up at www.ewg.org for "cleaner" products, but this website is U.S. based and there are some good Canadian options, as well.
- increase your antioxidant intake - if your body can't keep up with neutralizing free radicals from the sun, it might mean it's time to boost antioxidants in your diet. e.g. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables like blueberries, spinach, sweet potatoes, pomegranate, tomatoes, carrots.
- consider your oils - like every cell in the body, skin cells are surrounded by a layer of oils. The quality of the oils in are food determine the quality of the lipids in our bodies. Seed and vegetable oils tend to increase risk of burning in the sun, while olive and omega-3 oils will reduce the tendency. The quality of the fats in the meat you consume matters as well. If you eat a lot of fast food, chips, or conventionally raised meat you may increase your risk of sunburns. Go for free-range or grass fed meat and poultry and eggs, omega-3 rich wild fish, avocados, olive oil, walnuts, hemp seeds.
- know your medications & supplements - certain ones can possibly increase sun sensitivity, like St John's Wort.
Spring Clean recipe sneak peek:
- Almond, Broccoli & Cabbage Salad
- Spinach & Mango Protein Chia Pudding
- Grilled Bruschetta Chicken
- Blueberry, rhubarb & ginger smoothie
Looking forward to more sun to come,