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How Much Sun for Snowbirds?

If you’re a snowbird coming down to South Florida for the winter, you may have a dilemma. There’s so much conflicting info about sunning. What’s too much sun? But aren’t we all short on Vitamin D? So, what to do?

Mr. Skeptical shakes his head while looking at me with disgust. “Are you a dermatologist now?”

“No. However, most dermatologists recommend avoiding the sun as much as possible because it causes wrinkles and skin cancer. Yet, many dietitians, nutritionists, chiropractors, and medical doctors say we don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun. So, there’s a lot of Subconscious Fat to discuss.”

“And you have a solution?”

“I have what I believe is a healthy approach to deal with this confusing subject.”

“Okay, Mr. Know-It-All. Enlighten us.”

I smile. The answer to how much sun we should get starts off with it depends. Let’s talk about the area in the world where, predictably, there’s the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world.

“Where would that be?” asks Mr. Skeptical.

“It would be Australia, of course. It’s a country initially inhabited by Aborigines, who get very little skin cancer because of their dark skin, but when the light-skinned British citizens flooded Australia, cancer rates skyrocketed.”

The darker your skin is, the more sunlight you need. So, sunlight will vary from individual to individual. One of the side effects of not enough sunlight in darker-skinned individuals is rickets in children. JAMA Pediatrics states,

The risk of developing rickets is much greater among dark-skinned infants because they require a 6-fold greater exposure to sunlight to elevate their vitamin D levels to the same degree as seen in white infants.

This is one of the reasons that milk gets fortified with vitamin D so that infants (especially the darker-skinned ones) get enough vitamin D.

“Can you guess where the highest incidences of rickets are?”

Mr. Skeptical folds his arms. I’ve asked another question he doesn’t know, so he stays silent. I love it.

I continue, “Again, very predictable. The countries with the highest incidences of rickets are countries that force darker-skinned individuals to wear more clothing than they should (usually due to religious reasons). Countries in the Middle East and Africa have the highest rates of rickets.

Mr. Skeptical adds, “So in the US, milk is fortified with vitamin D, but is getting vitamin D from milk or a tablet as good as direct sunlight?”

“I’m glad you asked that question.” Mr. Skeptical face distorts in confusion, for it’s rare that I’m happy he asks a question. “As usual, nothing beats doing things naturally. Many experts say Vitamin D from sunlight is two to three times more effective than vitamin D supplements.

“One study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that when we get direct sunlight, it binds to a specific protein 100% of the time to synthesize higher levels of free vitamin D in the blood. When vitamin D was taken orally, only 60% was synthesized. The same study also demonstrated how sunlight vitamin D lasts two to three times longer than when orally ingested.

Mr. Skeptical adds, “This reminds me of the saying, don’t mess with Mother Nature.”

I cautiously smile, for it’s so rare that we agree on something. I feel like I’m skating on thin ice.

“So natural sunlight is better than taking supplements. What are a few other reasons to get more sunlight?” Asks Mr. Skeptical.

“For me, having grown up in Miami, when I lived in Connecticut, I got depressed. The winter blues is a real thing. It was cloudy almost every day during the winter, and it was depressing.”

“Well, if I were you, I’d be depressed.”

“Thank you for your kind words,” I utter while giving him a dirty look. “Many studies have shown that sunlight helps boost mood and well-being. Many notice that most bodybuilders have nice tans. Sunlight helps boost testosterone growth hormone and helps one recover better after a workout.”

“Okay, fine. But why do most dermatologists recommend always protecting themselves from the sun?”

“It’s not easy balancing the benefits of sunlight: better mood, recovery, muscle growth, compared to the downsides of too much sunlight like skin cancer and wrinkles. Nevertheless, I have a solution that works for me.”

My solution to too much sun or too little is straightforward. Get lots of sun (between 15 and 45 minutes daily, depending on how dark your skin is and where you live), but cover the face to avoid wrinkles. That’s it. If we limit the amount of sun exposure, we should prevent skin cancer. However, getting checked for skin cancer is smart if one is light-skinned. Regular sunlight to the body but not the face is the most practical way of getting adequate sunlight while avoiding the downside of getting wrinkles or cancer.

“Well, you should cover your face. It’s an ugly one.”

I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that comment from you know who.

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