Summertime is in full swing, so it’s important to take advantage of all the perks that summer can offer, while also avoiding any pitfalls that can also accompany this season.
To begin with, the summer months often provide the peak times of sunshine—for natural vitamin D—so it makes sense to prudently soak up the sun’s rays when you can. Additionally, most American adults and teens—approximately 75 percent—don’t get enough vitamin D, so summer provides a prime opportunity to catch up on vitamin D in a natural and free way. There’s typically not enough vitamin D in the American diet, either, so summer sun can help.
By the way, you really don’t want to come up short on vitamin D because vitamin D plays a role in up to 2,000 genes and in every single tissue and cell of everyone. And with 75 percent of American adults and teens not getting enough of it, that's a serious problem, since we need vitamin D to remain healthy at the cellular and genetic levels.
Of course, vitamin D comes in two forms: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is made in plants, while vitamin D3—a highly studied form—is made when cholesterol in our skin cells reacts with sunlight. One more clarification: it’s called vitamin D, but it’s actually a powerful steroid hormone that gets around in the body’s cells and tissues to make sure all is well.
And just why the summer sun? When people go outside at other times of the year, their skin is typically covered with layers of clothing, jackets or coats. But the vitamin D from the sun can’t enter the body to do its amazingly healthy work through those layers or through sunscreen or sunblock, for that matter. During summer months, however, people are usually outside more frequently and for longer periods of time in the sunshine and are less “bundled up” with layers of clothing, so that their skin can reap the benefits of the sun.
You see, sunlight has to reach exposed skin where it quickly converts cutaneous 7-dehydrocholesterol to the pre-vitamin D3 that then turns into vitamin D3 that the body can use. And just how much sun is enough? Getting at least 20 minutes of natural sun exposure 2 or 3 times a week is about right, but it needs to be without sunscreen or sunblock.
Now, having said that, there’s also a downside to getting too much sun exposure. You certainly don’t want to bake yourself or get a sunburn, which leads to the next of some summer must haves—omega-3s (and fish oil), antioxidants and coconut oil.
Omega-3s—from fish oils and more—have a ton of health benefits anyway, but they can also act as an internal sunscreen for the body, helping to protect people from sunburns. Researchers have found that people who take fish oil, which is loaded with omega-3s, are less likely to get sunburned than those who don’t take it—leading researchers to believe that taking fish oil can also help lower the risk of developing skin cancer over a lifetime.
Another player in the fight against sun damage are foods packed with antioxidants, including many fresh fruits and veggies, which are more abundant in the summer and can naturally help fight damage from harmful UV rays. Dr. Karen Burke of the American Academy of Dermatology says, “There are at least three antioxidants that have been proved to decrease the effect of the sun on the skin and actually prevent further UV damage: selenium, vitamin E and vitamin C.”
Additionally, research shows that consuming these antioxidants through foods is far more effective than applying them topically through various skin lotions and “potions.” You can find them in foods such as dark green vegetables, citrus fruits, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, papayas, mangoes, nuts and seeds. An additional bonus is that these foods are also good for the heart and for cellular health.
Now for coconut oil, which you might also call “SPF. . . naturally amazing!” As you may know, using conventional sunscreen or sunblock can not only block out essential vitamin D synthesis in the body, but they can also slather your skin with dangerous, toxic chemicals. And who wants that?
Eating organic extra virgin coconut oil serves as an internal sunscreen, but you can also spread it on your skin and use it as a non-toxic, healthy sunscreen that can block up to 30 percent of UV radiation. Coconut oil is also great as an after-sun skin moisturizer or even for everyday skin care—in the summer and throughout the year.
So, enjoy your summer. Just don’t forget about these must haves.