Sunshine and Gut Health: Is sun good for you?
When it comes to our health, the sun is often put in a bad light (no pun intended). We associate time in the sun with skin cancer and heat that can disrupt our gut health.
However, the sun isn’t an evil villain like it can often be made out to be. The sun can actually provide us with a lot of good things as long as we monitor heat levels and skin exposure.
So let’s look at the good, the bad, and the sunny to see what research actually says about the sun and our health. Is the sun a positive or negative effect and how can we maximize our benefits from it without putting our health at risk?
Sunlight for Your Health
The sun is our greatest source of vitamin D. While we get some from our foods, the vast majority of vitamin D comes from our exposure to the sun.
It’s been found that more than 40% of adults in the United States are deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is easier for our bodies to use and synthesize when it comes in the form of warm sunshine on our skin. The sunshine converts our cholesterol into vitamin D which helps our bodies to absorb calcium and other minerals — making it useful for our bone health.
Vitamin D isn’t just essential for healthy bones. It was found the vitamin D affects our mental and immune health significantly — which is why the deficiency in so many adults is such a big deal.
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with a higher prevalence of respiratory conditions and skin allergies like atopic dermatitis.
Sunlight has also been shown to help with fighting viruses. Patients in hospitals who were exposed to sunlight therapy improve much better than those who stay inside all the time. There was even a correlation between COVID-19 death rates being lower in countries that were closer to the equator and often got more sun exposure.
Sunlight provides our bodies with vitamin D and offers them a lot of great health benefits. One you might not expect, is how vitamin D from the sun can actually improve your gut health.
The Effects of Sunlight on Your Gut Health
If we look at how increased vitamin D levels improve our immune health, and then we think about how the majority of our immune system resides in our gut, the link is pretty obvious of how the two correlate with one another.
Much like we’ve talked about the gut-brain axis and the gut-heart axis there is a gut-skin axis as well. The gut and your skin both have microbiomes — little worlds of bacteria and other microorganisms that help keep us healthy. These microbiomes are able to cross-talk via metabolites and other messenger cells throughout our bodies.
If one microbiome is unhealthy, it can easily affect the other and that’s where we see dysbiosis affecting our skin health and vice versa. If you’ve ever been to the dermatologist and they ask about your diet, this is why.
What we eat has detrimental effects on the health of our skin. Conditions like rosacea, acne, atopic dermatitis, and others have all been linked to an unhealthy gut.
But this isn’t a one-way street. Our skin also affects how well our guts perform. Exposure to sunlight increases our vitamin D. Within our guts, Vitamin D helps by:
- Increasing microdiversity (helping to improve the balance of our microbes in our gut)
- Preserving the integrity of our intestinal tract
- Removing unhealthy or dead cellular structures so there’s more room for healthy ones
All of these things lead to a healthy, strong gut — leading to a healthy immune system.
Dangers of Sun Exposure
So, obviously, you shouldn’t just run outside and sun yourself, throwing all caution to the wind. While the sun offers us a lot of benefits, it isn’t without its risks.
Some of the different problems that can arise from too much sun exposure include:
- Heat exhaustion
- Gut dysbiosis
- Skin cancer
- Sun poisoning
While most of these are associated more with heat, the sun is where that heat comes from. So while you’re soaking up the rays, these are some things to keep in mind so that you keep your body safe.
To avoid all of the heat-associated problems caused by the sun, make sure to have healthy drinks like water or healthy juices on hand. Find shade or water to cool down in when it gets to be too hot. If you have a change in mental status, begin vomiting, or have a rapid increase in heart rate get medical attention immediately because they’re all signs of a heatstroke which can be deadly.
The conditions that are directly associated with the sun’s rays like sunburn, sun poisoning, and skin cancer can all be avoided by monitoring your skin itself. The sun on your skin is how we get our vitamin D, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use long-sleeved shirts, hats, or sunblock.
After spending time in the sun make sure to check your skin for any changes to moles. Monitoring your skin will help to catch potential skin cancer early on which will improve your prognosis.
So is vitamin D worth the risk?
The Final Verdict: Is the Sun Good for You?
Vitamin D is absolutely worth the risk. As we age, our bones become weaker and this exposes us to more falls and breaks. Lower vitamin D levels also mean that our immune health is compromised leaving us more susceptible to diseases.
The key to getting your vitamin D and keeping safe in moderation.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Time in the Sun
Here are some of the best ways to get the benefits while reducing the risks.
- Go out when the sun is at its peak (between 11am and 2pm)
- Put sunblock on after 10-30 minutes of sun exposure so you actually soak in some vitamin D before blocking the UV rays
- Skin tone determines how long you need in the sun.
- Light = less time because the skin is more sensitive
- Dark = more time since the melanin protects your skin better from the UV rays
- Eat polyphenol-filled foods for sun protection
- Take care of your gut health to protect your skin (Atrantil is full of gut protecting polyphenols)
- Where you live determines how much sun exposure you need.
- Closer to the equator means you need less time in the sun
- Further from the equator means you need more time in the sun
Listen to your body. It will let you know when you’ve had too much sun exposure and when to go inside with a tall glass of cold water. It will also let you know when you need more sunlight based on mood swings, low energy levels, and if you’re getting sick easier.
Your body will always let you know what you need. Do all the healthy things for it in moderation and it will thank you for longevity and good health.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside in the sun? Let us know in the comments below.