Updated: Jan 31
We’re sun advocates ☀️
You may know by now we’re big advocates of regular direct sun exposure for kids and adults, and this time we’re delving into exactly why that is, how the sun has helped us, how we get it, how you can too, and the many many MANY benefits of doing so.
There’s a long list of benefits of getting sun time throughout the day but here’s a general overview of the main benefits:
– boosts immunity
– lowers risk of various cancers including skin cancer (yep true story!)
– improves gut health
– enhances eye sight
– improves sleep
– balances hormones
– helps reduce depression symptoms
– strengthens bones and teeth
It’s a big post of hopefully very helpful info and inspiration! I hope you get a lot out of this one.
We need more than the Vitamin D
Sunlight exposure, direct on our skin and in our eyes, at different times of the day is super important. We used to think it was enough to sit outside near the middle of the day for a while to get Vitamin D time but have since learnt that’s far from enough, we actually need sunrise and late afternoon sunlight too. Interesting ey?!
𝙀𝙖𝙧𝙡𝙮 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙣𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙨𝙪𝙣:
Sunrise light turns on our ‘get up and go’ hormones and the low UV-B doesn’t allow for skin to tan/burn but actually gets the skin ready for higher UV-B later on in the day when there’s Vitamin D available from the sun. The UV-A sun helps strengthen and enhance the skin! The light in the first few hours of the day helps regulate the circadian rhythm, which helps the body produce melatonin naturally at night time, improving sleep quality.
𝙈𝙞𝙙𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝙑𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙣 𝘿 𝙨𝙪𝙣:
Later in the morning Vitamin D becomes available and increases in strength until solar noon arrives then decreases over the course of the afternoon as the light continues to change. This window is when we can access crucial Vitamin D, which some prefer to call a ‘hormone’ rather than a ‘vitamin’. D is available in some foods and in supplement form but best sourced direct from the sun through eyes and skin. D from any other source can be over-done whereas the human body can self-regulate D from the sun and utilise it appropriately. The human body is amazing! When we say the skin absorbs it, just getting it on arms and legs isn’t enough, the genital areas in particular need a regular dose of direct D.
𝙇𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙖𝙛𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙤𝙤𝙣 𝙡𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩:
“In the late afternoon, infra-red light acts to help repair damage to skin that has been overexposed to UV rays at solar noon.” – Dr Jack Kruse
So yeah, we kinda need to be outdoors A LOT! Our ancestors didn’t to make an effort to do so like most of us do today (I’m sitting outside using my laptop as I type this), it was their way of life. But today we lead such an indoor lifestyle it can be hard to get outside often to utilise the sun for health.
Getting better sleep; balancing the circadian rhythm
This biological rhythm inside the body is connected with the day and night cycles of the sun.
According to this published study from MIT, here’s why the circadian rhythm is important:
“Studies in animals have found that when circadian rhythm is thrown off, health problems including obesity and metabolic disorders such as diabetes can arise. People who work night shifts have an increased susceptibility to obesity and diabetes. Researchers at MIT have also discovered a link between a disruption in circadian cycles and aging. Just about everything that takes place physiologically is really staged along the circadian cycle,” Leonard Guarente senior author of the paper says. “What’s now emerging is the idea that maintaining the circadian cycle is quite important in health maintenance, and if it gets broken, there’s a penalty to be paid in health and perhaps in aging.” The body naturally synchs itself with the rise and setting of the sun and light cycles of the earth.
Living in the modern indoor world certainly has it’s benefits, but one of the biggest downside is the negative effect it’s having on sleep patterns.
The circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock which runs in the background of the brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.
In short, it’s our sleep/wake cycle.
A part of the hypothalamus (part of the brain) controls the circadian rhythm but outside factors like lightness and darkness also play a big role.
When it becomes light in the morning, the body receives a signal that it’s time to wake up, be alert and active.
When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes your body tired.
That’s why your circadian rhythm tends to coincide with the cycle of day and night time.
By exposing the body to sunlight at different times of the day we can balance the circadian rhythm and improve sleep. Blue light blocking at night helps too but that’s a topic for another day!
How to get the most out of the sun time you get
Being outdoors in the sunshine at various times of the day is great, it’s a start, but there are lots of unobvious ways we could be missing out on the benefits, even hindering them and making the sun-time unhealthy! Eek!
By eating crappy processed plant-based oils (canola, veg oil, conventional olive oil and variations etc) and junk foods we cause inflammation in the body and can actually ‘burn’ the skin from the inside out when we’re in the sun. You could be the most dedicated sunbather but if you’re eating junk then you’re possibly doing more harm to your skin than if you stayed indoors more often.
A paleo-based nutrition approach and consuming quality animal fats is much better when you’re spending time in the sun.
One of the best absorbers of nutrients from the sun is our eyes. When we cover them up with sunglasses (and even hats that shade our eyes) we miss out on the goodness the sun gives, and can even do harm to our eyesight. Wearing sunglasses when spending prolonged periods outdoors is smart but generally we need at least 20 mins a day (each, at sunrise then midday and then late afternoon) letting the sun enter our eyes.
Even natural sunscreen blocks a lot of the goodness, but chemical sunscreens are worse because they can contribute to skin cancers and have a lot of other health problems associated. Wearing chem-free sunscreen when being outside for long periods of time is a good idea and depending on your skin type, but most of us can build up sun tolerance and not burn or receive damage when we go sunscreen-free, we’ll talk more about this later.
Naked sun time is by the far the best way to get the benefits from sunshine but that’s not possible for everyone to do! The less clothing the better though. And building up the skin’s tolerance over time.
Vitamin D is actually water soluble and can wash off of our skin when we’re swimming and scrubbing after a beach session. Swim/shower before a sunbaking session for maximum results.
The gut health & Vitamin D link
“Could sunlight be the fastest way to tune your gut health? The way your body forms your immune response is fascinating.
It’s bacteria that live amongst the lungs, participate in oxygen respiration, and regulate the immune system with the gut.
Previously I’ve posted how vitamin D directly regulates the airway via the lung microbiome, but let’s look further into the light-microbe connection.
Sunlight exposure changes the human gut microbiome, specifically in people who are vitamin D-deficient. Research has revealed a protective effect of UVB against inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis or inflammatory bowel disease.
That is UV light, entering your skin, changing. If you get enough sunlight and have other digestive or hormonal imbalances, your vitamin D levels may not rise.
Inflammatory lung conditions like asthma relate to low vitamin D. Bleeding gums and gum disease relate to low vitamin D. IBS, Crohn’s and chronic digestive disorders? All underlie vitamin D.
There is a lot more to UV light, immune and gut microbe changes. Disease causing bacteria were found to decrease with higher exposure to sunlight.
A 2020 study concluded: “human lifestyle concerning sunlight exposure should be considered as one force modulating the gut microbiome, highlighting, as proposed by Bosman et al, a novel skin-gut axis which is associated with health and disease.” Here’s a summary: Your body absorbs UV light and creates an anti-bacterial or anti-viral infection in response to the environment.
TIP: "Try exposing the belly button to sunlight to get direct exposure through where we absorb nutrients; the umbilical cord.” – Dr Steven Lin
Amazing info! Does this inspire you to get a bit more D time in your day?
How to fit more sun into your day
As you now know, direct sunlight on our skin and in our eyes, at various times of the day, as often as possible is super important for our health. But how the heck is that do-able when life is so busy and we’re indoors so much?
Hopefully these tips help you…
𝙀𝙖𝙧𝙡𝙮 𝙨𝙪𝙣 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚
Have your brekkie or morning cuppa outside instead of at the dining table or in front of the TV
Go for walks, do exercise/play, bike rides etc outside in the mornings as close to sunrise as possible
If you go to work really early try to make some of the travel time outside in the sunlight (e.g. get off the bus early or get on it later, ride to work instead etc)
Move your indoor morning ritual (meditating, brekkie, computer time etc) to outside when the weather allows
𝙑𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙣 𝘿 𝙨𝙪𝙣 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚
Use the D Minder app to tell you when Vitamin D is present where you live (e.g. at the moment it’s from about 8:30am here on the Sunshine Coast, QLD) and plan your day around getting outside in that window. It could be that your morning break is outside in the sun or you have your lunch outside then.
If you work/study from home this is much easier to do, get outside with as little clothing on as possible for as long as possible in the D part of the day. Sunbake and listen to podcasts, music etc, meditate, work (if you can see the screen!), take calls outside etc.
Move business meetings and social catch-ups to outdoor locations in the sunshine and encourage other attendees to wear clothes that can be reduces for max sun exposure
If your workplace has a private outdoor area with sun exposure utilise it and encourage others to do the same!
Take breaks at a local park where you can get at least half your body in the sun for 20+ mins
Lunch outside in the sun is such a nice way to break up a busy working indoors day
𝗟𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝘀𝘂𝗻 𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲
Exercise/walk late afternoon outside- Sit outside to meditate
Try to be outside for some of your trip home from work/college
Sit outside for afternoon tea/early dinners when the weather is nice
Do gardening late afternoon
Good luck getting more sun time + remember… no sunnies on if possible!
Vitamin D deficiency linked to tonsillitis
“Vitamin D deficiency was present in patients with recurrent tonsillitis and might be associated with an increase in the risk of recurrent tonsillitis. There is a need to explore these findings via clinical trials based on large populations.”
That was the conclusion given in a Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery study on The Association Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Recurrent Tonsillitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis and it poses the question… why don’t doctors look for and treat Vitamin D deficiency before opting for tonsil removal?
Low Vitamin D also contributes to low immune function, so gut and throat problems are likely as a result. I used to get tonsillitis often as toddler and I found out later in life I probably had a pretty crappy immune system at the time.
𝙇𝙚𝙩’𝙨 𝙩𝙖𝙠𝙚 𝙖 𝙒𝙃𝙊𝙇𝙀-𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙖𝙘𝙝 𝙩𝙤 𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙛𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙮’𝙨 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙡𝙩𝙝!
The sun strengthens our bones & teeth
It’s truly amazing how that big bright yellow thing up in the sky can do so much good for our health!
Again Dr Steven Lin has some brilliant info on the topic… “Sunlight absorbed through your skin is a remarkable energy transformation. Your body uses sunlight energy to convert it to frozen energy of the strength of your skeletal system. That’s light energy transferred to a metal structure.
Your bones are a mix of phosphorous, calcium and oxygen – that grows in hexagonal crystals. Pure hydroxyapatite is white in colour. It makes up most of the human bone structure, builds tooth enamel, and collects in tiny amounts in part of the brain. The hexagonal structure is a pattern made in nature, that gives the bone incredible strength.
That energy holds and protects your organs. Vitamin D is mainly involved in the regulation of calcium and phosphorus metabolism and, consequently, in the processes of bone growth and mineralization. It is a known cause of the skeletal diseases osteoporosis (loss of bone density in old age) and rickets (improper bone formation in kids).
Vitamin D primarily from sun exposure and dietary intake, but the majority is synthesized to a pre-hormone in the skin which is converted into (pre-D3). It’s UVB light (midday sun) that ultimately forms cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Then the active hormone is activated by the liver and secondly the kidneys until it reaches its active form (1,25(OH)D). Active vitamin D then acts on vitamin D receptors (VDR) across the body that regulates between 2-3000 genes.
Vitamin D levels in the body stimulate calcium absorption from the digestive system.
If you are vitamin D deficient you only absorb 15% of any dietary calcium you ingest. Absorbed calcium is primarily used for mineralization of bone. However, a secondary effect include VDRs located on bone-making cells (osteoblasts) that drives bone formation.
You absorb sunlight and converts UV energy into a biological hormone. That hormone tells and directs your body to efficiently use the metal calcium to form your bones and teeth. Are you amazed by life as I am?”
Bonus extra info: Why sunscreen is more harmful than helpful – article by Weston A Price
How we get sun-adapted
It’s not a good idea to start sunbaking for long periods of time daily to get Vitamin D without understanding a few important factors first, and there’s a smart way of going about upping sun-time.
When we first started getting more D we didn’t do it properly. We only got middle of the day sun time most days, for a couple years, because we weren’t aware of the role of sunrise and late afternoon sunlight exposure. Oops! BUT we definitely got a tonne of benefit from all that Vitamin D time, without a doubt our health improved.
Had we been getting sunrise time it would have been better but to generally adapt to D sun time we basically started off slowly in the cooler time of the year. We started naked sunbaking in autumn in SEQ using an app called D Minder so we could track how much D we were getting, and if even tells you how much time you need to spend outdoors, when to turn over etc, it’s pretty good. We started out with short sunbaking sessions and built up to longer over time.
In winter we need like 1.5hours of D time (woah!) because the level of Vitamin D is lower during that time of the year, but we could rarely spend that long outside nor did we start trying to. We started with probably 20 mins and increased that slowly, to around max 1hr as that’s all we had time for. On a cruisy day I might have gotten a bit more but 1hr a day was pretty good. I think I averaged about 45 mins most days.
When we started we didn’t have privacy in the courtyard but a balcony on the other side of our townhouse had privacy and sun shining on it at the right time of day so we moved the sun lounge up there, covered over the spots people down below could look up and see us and made that our sunbaking spot. When we moved to another townhouse we made sure we found somewhere with a private courtyard so now we can sunbake in the nude without any worry.
Clint and I have different skin tones. I’m the yellow tone, while he’s pink. This means he burn easier than I do so it was important for him to sun adapt at his own rate, not the same as me.
Over time I noticed I could be outside in the sunshine for longer periods without my skin becoming red and even longer before any sunburn was happening. One day we went kayaking and fishing on the river for a few hours and I remember I did burn and peel because I didn’t wear any natural sunscreen, but it was about 3 hours or so, whereas previously it would have been around an hour.
It also took time to get used to sitting in direct sun which can feel hot and draining. We adapted to that over time, got more used to it. Clint was born in Rocky so he loves the heat but he hates just lying in direct sun feeling hot not actually doing anything, he tends to feel the heat quicker. But by spending more and more time doing so he got more used to it and adapted. He still can’t spend as much time sunbaking as I can but that’s because we have different skin types and levels of tolerance.
In summer time we tend to get outside much earlier when the D is strong enough but the sun isn’t as hot. Some days in summer we’re only sunbaking for 20 mins before it’s just too hot compared to winter when 1hr feels super easy!
For prolonged periods of no D time (rainy season, too busy to sunbake etc) I find my tolerance reduces a bit and I have to build it back up but it’s easier to do then initially because I’m more sun-adapted than I was to start with.
If you listen to this amazing podcast it’ll educate you a lot about the effects of sun on our skin, myths around sunburn and loads more but keep in mind sunrise and late afternoon sunlight time is really important as well, not just the midday D sun.
I definitely have a lot more freckles since sunbaking more often but I eat pretty clean, I spend a lot more time now getting sunrise and late afternoon sun on my skin and in my eyes, I’ll definitely monitor my skin health but I’m pretty confident I’ll be fine, and if I did get a skin cancer I think it’d mostly caused from all the years I ate crap, covered myself in chemical sunscreen any time I was outside for 10mins or more, and wore sunglasses.
Autumn, in Australia, is the best time to begin the sun-adaption process
How to get Vitamin D when the sun's not out for a while
(or you’re just too busy to get outside in the sunshine!)
We go through prolonged rainy periods here on the 'Sunshine' Coast. It's awful! When you’re a nature lover and sun addict it’s hard to go weeks and weeks without much sunshine! Motivation levels are low, immunity drops, it’s not a fun time. I definitely noticed my immune system suffered, I got a bit of a bug for about 3 days after this sun-free period, but luckily because I look after myself pretty well, it was a short-lived thing and I was over it quickly.
But what can we do to keep our immunity, energy and mood up when the sun’s not around for a while or life simply gets in the way and we can’t sit outside for D-time for long periods?
Dr Chris Kresser suggests a few ways to get a boost of D in sun-droughts…
“take 1 tsp./day of high-vitamin cod liver oil to ensure adequate vitamin A & D intake. Eat vitamin D-rich foods such as herring, duck eggs, bluefin tuna, trout, eel, mackerel, sardines, chicken eggs, beef liver and pork.
Make sure to eat enough vitamin K. Primary sources in the diet are natto, hard and soft cheeses, egg yolks, sauerkraut, butter and other fermented foods. Make sure to choose dairy products from grass-fed animals if possible.”
We personally take Green Pastured fermented cod liver oil with ghee (see our video here for info on this), more so in the times of the year we’re not getting much sun, less so when we’re sunbaking often because there is such as thing as TOO MUCH VITAMIN D! The D we get from the sun self-regulates in the body, the D we get elsewhere doesn’t.
We also like to make super easy tinned wild-caught salmon and sardine patties, plus we eat pastured eggs daily.
I hope this information and our perspectives and experiences help you and your family on your journey to better health! Please comment if you have any questions.
Primal Health Coach
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