Friday, July 8, 2011

Healthy Sun Exposure and Sunburn

by Nelson, Dr. Christopher's Herb Shop

In these newsletters we often discuss diet and herbs. A topic I tend to neglect would be the other critical aspects of a healthy lifestyle, such as fresh air, exercise and sunlight. I would like to focus on sunlight in particular. In years past, the public has been told (primarily by dermatologists who received a good amount of funding from the sunscreen industry) to avoid the sun because it promotes skin cancer. This usually hasn’t bothered our industrialized population much, because we are often indoors anyway. Probably the most well known benefit to be derived from sunlight would be the vitamin D our bodies make by interacting with the light. Many medical doctors have recently been strong advocates of vitamin D supplementation (since we’re all indoors working anyway). Years ago, people were told they only needed 400 iu a day. Currently, most suggest taking between 2,000 – 5,000 iu a day. If someone is defficient, a common treatment involves taking 50,000 iu once a week for eight weeks, possibly supplementing with normal doses on other days. A medical doctor I know said to take it “Everyday until the resurrection”. How much will people need to take 10 years from now? I don’t know, but it will probably be a different number or need something else with it in order to work.

Even though many foods are fortified with vitamin D (such as milk), the labels are based on antiquated information. When it says 100%, an M.D would probably tell you that it met closer to 20% of your needs. Instead of 1-3 glasses of milk, a doctor would tell you that it would take more like 10-20 glasses. That’s a heck of a lot of milk, and certainly more than even the healthiest human body could handle in a day!

I would rather go for sunlight myself, at least during the summer when it’s available. I do not fear the sun, but I do respect it. If it is utilized properly, sunlight can provide miraculous health benefits. What makes sunlight dangerous is excessive exposure without building up to it. Dr. Christopher once had a man come to him for help with the skin cancer he was dealing with around his groin. What was the doctor’s solution? Since the fellow was going to be herding sheep isolated in the mountains, Dr. Christopher told him to pack up a 3 month supply of grape juice, and told him to completely expose himself to the sun in such a way as to not burn himself. That would be considered odd today! Exposure to the sun when dealing with skin cancer!

But then again, some of your top experts on the nature of vitamin D will tell you that it is one of the most potent inhibitors of skin cell growth.(1) Probably the strongest advocates I know of for using this kind of nutritional therapy would be Dr. Holick and Dr. DeLucca. These individuals were responsible for first synthesizing vitamin D, and saw first hand what would be considered miraculous results. (I noted with some interest that Dr. Holick discussed how when the body manufactured vitamin D, before it could be used, it needed to be metabolized by going from the bloodstream, to the liver, then the kidneys where it was ‘activated’. Funny how they’re the exact same organs I never shut up about).

Dr. Christopher’s method for building up tolerance to sunlight was based on gradual exposure. When starting, he taught to start with two minutes, front and back, increasing by 1-2 minutes daily, depending on how light of a complexion the person had. With this method, one may safely derive full benefit from the sun without getting sunburn, nor will sunscreen be needed for hours on end. I’m not all that fond of sunscreen. Partly its because I don’t like the chemicals in the stuff, but mostly its because the sunscreen will actually interfere with your bodies ability to produce vitamin D, so much that you can actually wear it during the summer, get copious exposure, and be deficient by the end of summer!(2)

I had known people who have loved the outdoors, and have spent a good amount of their lives outside. They are in their middle years with many freckles and moles on their shoulders from where they have been repeatedly burned. They say “I usually just go outside, burn up, and I’m good to go for the rest of the season”. This kind of procedure is reckless, and will allow for malignancy of the skin that could otherwise be avoided.

Before I knew about this stuff, I used to put on sunscreen, go outside for a few hours and still get burned up. I remember one particularly bad sunburn I had. Aloe vera gel is amazing, but it wasn’t getting the job done fast enough. One of my friends let me know about the burn paste (this was before my herbal education), which consisted of equal parts wheat germ oil, honey, and adding comfrey root until a paste was made. The burn was all over my back, as well as face and shoulders. I did not really know how to work with a large area with a poultice at the time, so I just used the wheat germ oil and honey on my back (not wanting to stain my shirt with the comfrey), and used the rest at night over my face. I was annoyed because the honey made my shirt stick right to my back, but within a day my skin felt so much better I kept using it, and recovered very quickly. Even wheat germ oil used alone gave me quite a bit of relief!

There is no significant plant source of vitamin D. About the richest source you’ll find is watercress, which might give you a measly 2-3 iu of vitamin D if you eat a lot of it. The only true vegan source that we can derive this hormone-nutrient from is sunlight, and it will not always be available. I admire the Swiss: they create simple walled and roofless structures outdoors so they can still sunbathe in the winter The good news is that the liver can store vitamin D. In fact, even accounting for natural atrophy of the stored vitamin in the system (it has a half life of its own), you can usually build up 3-4 months worth of storage. This is practical if you live in an area with four seasons, and you get 30-60 minutes worth of good sun exposure three times a week or so. Otherwise, you are either going to have to get it from a supplement, or from eggs or animal organs. These particular foods have the most to offer those who live in cold climates, such as Ukraine or Northern Canada.

The good news is that the body is self regulating with this nutrient. You cannot produce so much vitamin D that it becomes toxic. You could only harm yourself by taking too much of the synthesized vitamin (and you’d really have to go at it. In some hospitals they were using 100,000 -150,000 iu as treatment for bone disease. It is at these levels where it becomes toxic, although you might get mild symptoms above 50,000 iu), but no matter how much you expose yourself to the sun, even to the point of sunburn, you will not poison yourself with vitamin D.

In short, do not condemn the sun. Let it be a part of your life, and follow some of these simple guidelines so that it helps you feel better instead of doing yourself harm.

1. Most of what I’m citing here either came out of Dr. Holicks own mouth in an interview, or an excellent book that he has written called The Vitamin D Solution (Michael F. Holick) Everything of consequence that he has stated in his lectures and interviews may be found in this book.

2. Dr. Holick made this observation on a group of young girls working with his colleagues in Maine. He stated that if you put a sunscreen on
with an SPF of 8, it reduces your ability to make vitamin D in your skin by more than 95%. His suggestion was to enjoy the sun for 5-10 minutes (plenty of sun exposure if you were Caucasian in the summer) and then apply the sunscreen.

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NOTICE: All information in this newsletter is given out as information only and is not intended to diagnose or prescribe.