The Bioregulatory Medicine Institute
The Southern and Northern Hemispheres:
It is surprising sometimes how the obvious can be obscured. For starters, if the sun causes skin cancer, then those who live where there is less sun should have less skin cancer–yet the opposite is true.
People who live near the equator and get more sun have less skin cancer. Meanwhile, those who live in states with less sun are actually at higher risk.1 So why are we always being warned to stay out of the sun?
Some will argue that being in a northern climate does not allow for consistent sun exposure, making individuals more vulnerable to burn, and in turn more vulnerable to skin cancer. Yet since we have taken precautions with “safe-sunbathing” (only engaging in early morning and late day sun exposure, with tons of sunscreen in between) the incidence only continues to climb.2
Clearly the advice we have been given is not working as melanoma rates in the United States have more than doubled over the past 30 years 3 as we have increasingly been blocking rays every which way possible.
Vitamin D is an Essential Nutrient for Our Health:
Research has shown that those with the highest levels of vitamin D avert more health issues than those who have low levels.4 Here are some of the benefits of Vitamin D.5
Bone health: Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus; both critical for building and maintaining healthy bones.
Brain health: Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties that support brain cell activity.
Immunity: Vitamin D supports the immune system while reducing the risk of certain diseases.
Muscle function: Vitamin D supports muscle function.
Decreased inflammation: Vitamin D reduces inflammation in the body.
Decrease in cancer: Some studies suggest that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, although more research is needed.6
Improved cognitive function: Low levels of vitamin D in the blood are associated with cognitive decline, and vitamin D supplementation may help support cognitive health.
Cardiovascular health: Vitamin D may have a role in supporting cardiovascular health, although more research is needed.
Reduced risk of death: Some studies suggest that vitamin D supplementation may be associated with a reduced risk of death.
How Vitamin D is Naturally Produced
Though there are food and supplements that contain Vitamin D, the most effective way to naturally increase Vitamin D is through sun exposure. And the coolest part is that your body self-regulates the production of vitamin D, so you don't have to worry about making too much.
The process of vitamin D synthesis in the body is a multi-step process which initially begins when the skin is exposed to sunlight. The ultra-violet rays, specifically UVB rays, penetrate the uncovered skin and then convert cutaneous 7-dehydrocholesterol to previtamin D3, which in turn becomes vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol. Lastly, the liver converts cholecalciferol to calcidiol, which is then converted to calcitriol (the active chemical form of the vitamin) in the kidneys.7
However, factors such as where you live, the season, and time of day can also impact the amount of vitamin D you can get from sun exposure. For example, people living in northern states may only be able to make adequate Vitamin D from mid-March until mid-September and only for a limited time each day. Other factors which influence your Vitamin D synthesis include your age, body mass index, skin color and whether or not you are using sunblock. Older people, and people with darker skin all tend to produce Vitamin D at a slower rate.
Follow the Sun Azimuth!
It is the UVB wavelengths which are responsible for producing Vitamin D in our bodies by penetrating into the epidermis layer of the skin. These wavelengths are shorter than UVA rays and are at their greatest intensity when they have less distance to travel through the atmosphere, typically around mid-day. Specifically the UVB needs to be at a minimum of about 50 degrees, or greater, above the horizon to stimulate vitamin D production in our bodies.8
The UVA wavelength, on the other hand, remains mostly constant throughout the day since it has a longer wavelength than the UVB, which can pass through the atmosphere better. It is also able to penetrate both the epidermis and dermis and therefore known to cause wrinkles and signs of aging in the skin, but it does not stimulate Vitamin D production.
Therefore, for Vitamin D synthesis to naturally occur in the body, the easiest way is to get direct midday sun and to expose as much skin as possible for short periods of time. However, since it is not always possible to be outside at high noon, the Sun Azimuth chart will provide you with the range of time that the sun is optimal to ensure you are capturing the rays that produce the maximum amount of Vitamin D.
How to Use This Tool
Click here to access the website. Simply input the following data: object (choose sun), date, tabular interval (time increments), and location of interest below, and click on the "Get Data" button.
Look for when the altitude is greater than 50 degrees. This is the time when the sun's rays are most beneficial for Vitamin D production. As stated above, you need both the sun in this range in concert with the weather, ensuring it is not rainy, or too cloudy.
Some Additional Tips for Maximizing Vitamin D Synthesis
Consider augmenting sun exposure with a healthy diet of cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and similar green leafy vegetables for an added benefit. Consuming cruciferous vegetables provides essential sulfur in the blood, which when combined with healthy cholesterol from sun exposure, can create cholesterol sulfate. This compound is crucial, found in every building block within the body, providing infinite health benefits. These include supporting a healthy immune system, enhancing immune cell function, and reducing inflammation.9
Also, to improve the absorption of Vitamin D, supplementing with magnesium improves the absorption, activation, and utilization of this nutrient.10 There are many forms of magnesium that work in different ways. Here is a resource to take a closer look at the different forms of magnesium.11
Lastly, it has been suggested that vitamin D absorption is a process that continues to take place for several hours after sun exposure and that swimming or showering directly after may lower the amount of valuable vitamin D production.
Isn’t it ironic that the sun, which is responsible for producing one of the most beneficial nutrients in our body, is often portrayed in such a bad light? (Excuse the pun!) For decades we have followed recommendations to avoid the sun with abysmal results. Of course it absolutely makes sense to avoid getting sunburned, yet knowing how Vitamin D is produced and its benefits, it may be time to rock our rays and explore this alternative approach!