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Winterize Your Immune System

chilly-womanThe relationship between vitamin D status and the strength of the immune system is a hot topic. Actually a steroid hormone more than a vitamin, vitamin D is made by the skin after exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. Because the sun’s angle of incidence outside the tropics is considerably lower in winter, the skin’s response is too weak to manufacture sufficient stores of this vital nutrient.

In the early 1980’s, British physician R. Edgar Hope-Simpson proposed a relationship between solar radiation and the seasonality of influenza.  Without sufficient sunlight, the skin does not produce vitamin D, deficiency of which is common in winter.  This steroid hormone has considerable influence on immunity, where it prevents excessive expression of inflammation and is able to, “…stimulate the expression of potent anti-microbial peptides, which exist in neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells, and in epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract where they play a major role in protecting the lung from infection.”   (Cannell. 2006)   This study, performed at California’s Atascadero State Hospital, states that deficiency of vitamin D predisposes children to respiratory infections.  UV radiation, either natural or artificial, increases vitamin D levels and thereby reduces the incidence of pulmonary infections.

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with many of the diseases of modern society, but traditional medicine has been reluctant to address this concern, or even to recognize it.  This vitamin is the only known precursor to a potent steroid hormone that is able to regulate expression in a number of tissues.  It does not exist in appreciable amounts in the diet, not even in fortified foods like dairy.  People used to make enormous amounts of vitamin D until they were warned to stay out of the sun.  If not exposed to the sun, we need to get it from supplements.  The flu epidemic of 1918 took a great toll.  Autopsies on some of the fifty million people who died revealed destruction of the respiratory tract.  This is the inflammation that vitamin D has been found to prevent.

Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies done in Japan in 2010 found that vitamin D3 supplementation not only reduced incidence of influenza type A, but also reduced asthma attacks as a secondary outcome. (Urashima. 2010).  The elderly tend to have suboptimal levels of vitamin D, which is associated with an increased risk of falls as well as seasonal virus attacks.  Vitamin D supplementation in this group is a realistic intervention that can pay large dividends.  2000 IU a day has been suggested as a minimal dose also to help prevent osteoporosis, increased risk of certain cancers, aberrant glucose and lipid metabolism and to improve quality of life.  (Lawless. 2011)  (Cherniak.  2008). Solar activities of the sun have a cycle of about eleven years, and an interesting phenomenon is that flu epidemics seems to follow the pattern.  (Hayes.  2010).

Vitamin D is not the sole player in the winterizing game.  Viruses need to get into your cells to make copies of themselves, using your cellular materials.   Replication of the flu virus is interrupted by a standardized elderberry extract called Sambucol, the use of which brought improvement to more than 90% of the persons in a study group within two days.  Since there is no satisfactory medication to cure the flu, this natural substance is nearly miraculous because it’s also inexpensive, has no side effects, and works on both A and B strains of influenza.  (Zakay-Rones.  1995)  (Zakay-Rones.  2004). The anti-viral properties of elderberry are attributed to its flavonoids content, some of which are peculiar to that plant alone. (Roschek. 2009).

A considerable part of the immune system resides in the gut, where intestinal microflora work to maintain the status quo.  Keeping those bacteria happy and healthy makes sense, so probiotics have been examined as a support system.  In a controlled study in Wisconsin, scientists found that six months of supplementation with a probiotic resulted in reduced fever, runny nose, and cough incidence in youngsters aged 3 to 5 years.  Duration of prescription medications and missed school days also were reduced.  (Leyer. 2009)  Day care centers across the Atlantic also fared well in the reduction of childhood infections with probiotic use. In Finland, researchers saw a substantial reduction in respiratory infections and their severity among children under 6 years old, accompanied by a reduction in the need for antibiotic treatment in those who received probiotic dairy products.  (Hatakka.  2001)

Investigations of echinacea as treatment for flu were not as positive as those for prevention.  It was discovered that early intervention, at the fist symptoms, brought the best results using an echinacea compound tea, namely one called Echinacea Plus.  (Lindenmuth.  2000).  Because there are too many variables, including the part or parts of the plant used, the brewing times and techniques, the variety of the plant used, its cultivation conditions, and other factors, test results are likely to differ.  Even in trials with sound methodology, results may conflict.  (Melchart.  2000)  (Linde. 2006) Using echinacea as prevention or as treatment, then, may be an uncertain proposition.

There is more to consider.  Garlic and onions have putative anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. (Goncagul. 2010). (Harris. 2001)  Exercise, regardless of intensity or duration, and sound sleep of uninterrupted duration help the lymphatic system to clear impurities and to boost immunity.  One or all of these suggestions might be your ounce of prevention.  Oh, yeah, one last thing.  The higher the humidity in your house in the winter, the less likely viruses are to be transmitted.  (Lowen,. 2007)  (Yang. 2011)

References

MAIN ABSTRACT
Cannell JJ, Vieth R, Umhau JC, Holick MF, Grant WB, Madronich S, Garland CF, Giovannucci E. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiol Infect. 2006 Dec;134(6):1129-40.

SUPPORTING ABSTRACTS
Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, Kurihara M, Wada Y, Ida H.
Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 May;91(5):1255-60. Epub 2010 Mar 10.

Lawless S, White P, Murdoch P, Leitch S.
(Preventing) two birds with one stone: improving vitamin D levels in the elderly.
J Prim Health Care. 2011 Jun 1;3(2):150-2.

Cherniack EP, Levis S, Troen BR.
Hypovitaminosis D: a widespread epidemic.
Geriatrics. 2008 Apr;63(4):24-30.

Hayes DP.
Influenza pandemics, solar activity cycles, and vitamin D.
Med Hypotheses. 2010 May;74(5):831-4. Epub 2009 Dec 28.

Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, Manor O, Regev L, Schlesinger M, Mumcuoglu M.
Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.
J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9.

Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J.
Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.
J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.

Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS.
Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro.
Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61.

Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC
Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children.
Pediatrics. 2009 Aug;124(2):e172-9.

Hatakka K, Savilahti E, Pönkä A, Meurman JH, Poussa T, Näse L, Saxelin M, Korpela R.
Effect of long term consumption of probiotic milk on infections in children attending day care centres: double blind, randomised trial.
BMJ. 2001 Jun 2;322(7298):1327

Brinkeborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH.
Echinaforce and other Echinacea fresh plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold. A randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind clinical trial.
Phytomedicine. 1999 Mar;6(1):1-6.

Lindenmuth GF, Lindenmuth EB
The efficacy of echinacea compound herbal tea preparation on the severity and duration of upper respiratory and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study.
J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Aug;6(4):327-34.

Melchart D, Linde K, Fischer P, Kaesmayr J.
Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD000530.

Linde K, Barrett B, Wölkart K, Bauer R, Melchart D.
Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25;(1):CD000530.

Goncagul G, Ayaz E.
Antimicrobial effect of garlic (Allium sativum).
Recent Pat Antiinfect Drug Discov. 2010 Jan;5(1):91-3.

Harris JC, Cottrell SL, Plummer S, Lloyd D.
Antimicrobial properties of Allium sativum (garlic).
Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2001 Oct;57(3):282-6.

Lowen AC, Mubareka S, Steel J, Palese P.
Influenza virus transmission is dependent on relative humidity and temperature.
PLoS Pathog. 2007 Oct 19;3(10):1470-6.

Wan Yang, Linsey C. Marr
Dynamics of Airborne Influenza A Viruses Indoors and Dependence on Humidity
PLoS ONE: Research Article, published 24 Jun 2011 10.1371/journal.pone.0021481

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

The Skinny On Skin

Summer beautyUnlike other organs of the body, skin nutrition can be enhanced by “direct deposit” through topical application of micronutrients, which can complement dietary acquisition and result in a stronger, healthier barrier to the world. Did you know that, when you look at a person, you are looking at dead skin? That would be the horny, keratinized outer layer called the stratum corneum. Keratin is a protein that helps to keep skin hydrated by preventing water evaporation. You might recognize it as the major component of wool, nails, rhino horns, and quill pens. The cells of the stratum corneum can also absorb water, which explains the puffiness and wrinkling you get in your fingers from sitting in the tub too long. Be glad this doesn’t happen all over. Sometimes, when your skin gets dry and itchy, you can see flakes of it when you scratch. That is the stratum corneum, part of the epidermis, which also contains the skin pigmentation chemical called melanin. Since people who look at you are seeing the walking dead, you might as well try to make it at least a little bit attractive.

Dry skin can be caused by harsh detergents and soaps, and by nutritional deficiencies, especially of essential fatty acids. Diet aside, at least for now, topical treatments can help to keep skin moist and pliable. There are no blood vessels in the epidermis to deliver nutrients to the stratum corneum, which usually prevents the passage of many types of molecules to layers below. Sometimes, though, a compound will pass through. Changes in temperature, air flow and humidity can pull water away from the skin and interrupt its integrity. If ignored, this can lead to more serious concerns, including cell damage and inflammation that perpetuate the condition. An important strategy is to address dry skin by maintaining the lipid components of what is termed the natural moisturizing factor.

The outer layers of the epidermis receive less nutritional support than underlying cells, hence the slowness and limitation of dietary interventions to offer positive effects. On the bright side, concentrations of nutrients in the skin can eventually be met through oral avenues. On the other hand, topical application may be more efficient, especially to ameliorate the ravages of photodamage (Pinell, 2003) (Zussman, 2010). Long before other insults were considered, poor nutrition was associated with changes in skin appearance, with the vitamin C deficit known as scurvy being among the first to be identified. Later associations, such as pellagra and ariboflavinosis, were found to be correctible through diet.

The topical use of micronutrients is a relatively new area of study (Boelsma, 2001). Much has been discussed and publicized about vitamins C, D, and E for skin health. Fatty acids have also been part of the conversation, and ceramides are slowly coming into the limelight (Coderch, 2003) (Guillou, 2011). This is warranted because the stratum corneum contains high levels of ceramides, constituting as much as half the total lipids, where they serve as a kind of glue that holds surface skin cells together.

But a not-so-new-kid on the block is gaining recognition for participation in the parade that leads to rescue of failing skin—the B-vitamins, 3 and 5. Nicotinamide (B3) is the amide of nicotinic acid, which is the form of niacin able to lower cholesterol and to cause flushing.  Nicotinamide is also called niacinamide, known to reduce glucose levels. Metabolically, nicotinamide is convertible to nicotinic acid. Though pharmacologically different, niacin/nicotinic acid and nicotinamide/niacinamide have the same vitamin activity. In a Japanese study conducted about a decade ago, it was found that topical nicotinamide is able to improve the permeability barrier of skin by stimulating the synthesis of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol, with a subsequent decrease in transepidermal water loss (Tanno, 2000).

Not to be left out of the mix, panthenol likewise lends its magic to a topical lotion. Panthenol is the alcohol analog of pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, that acts as a provitamin since it is quickly converted to vitamin B5. Only the D- form is biologically active, but both it and the L- form have moisturizing properties. In cosmetics, it may appear as DL-panthenol. Combined with niacinamide, this nutrient was shown to reduce a few obvious signs of aging skin, notably hyperpigmentation and redness. In a blinded study carried out in India, researchers found that subjects who applied such a lotion to the face daily for ten weeks experienced a significant reduction in redness and hyperpigmentation, an improvement in skin tone evenness, and positive effects on skin texture (Jerajani, 2010). Even in the absence of B5, the B3 application (niacinamide) alone was able to reduce the same negative features while simultaneously diminishing fine lines and wrinkles (Bissett, 2005) (Kawada, 2008).

Traditionally, vitamins have played the role of co-enzymes. You still need to eat food to give the vitamins something to work with. Several vitamins, however, assume the role of endocrine mimics. Biotin is one of these. Critical to carboxylation—replacing a hydrogen atom (H) with a carboxyl group (COOH), as in the oxidation of products that result from the decomposition of carbohydrates, fats and proteins—biotin also induces epidermal cell differentiation (Bolander, 2006), a process that helps to make new cells. This is especially noticeable in the health of fingernails and animals’ hooves, which become increasingly brittle and friable in the absence of biotin (Colombo, 1990) (Hochman, 1993).

We all know that exposure to the sun helps to make vitamin D. But we also know that too much exposure can cause the skin problems we’re trying to prevent or to rectify. The sun’s ultraviolet light is part of the invisible band of radiation. Most (~95%) of the UV that reaches the earth is the lower-frequency, longer-length UVA, sometimes called black light, that penetrates more deeply into the skin than UVB, but is less intense. UVA is the tanning ray that plays a major role in photoaging. UVB is responsible for sunburn and reddening, damaging the superficial layers of the epidermis. Both are culprits. Nicotinamide has been involved in cellular energy restoration after UV irradiation and is found to be immune protective, but riboflavin—vitamin B2—has similar virtue in that it is vital to cellular energy metabolism. Scientists who speculated that B2 could offer immune protection as well as B3 after insult by UV light were correct. Topical riboflavin protected against both wavebands (Diona, 2010) (Yoshikawa, 1999), and oral riboflavin can prevent dermatitis (Lo, 1984).

Taking a single B vitamin orally may have undesirable results; taking it as part of the entire complex, or adding it to the complex, is not a concern. Deficiency of B vitamins can be related to acne, cracked lips, dryness, wrinkles and an uneven complexion, among other dermatological (and metabolic) involvements. Avoiding these issues may be as easy as taking a supplement or finding a fortified lotion.

References

Bissett DL, Miyamoto K, Sun P, Li J, Berge CA.
Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin.
Int J Cosmet Sci. 2004 Oct;26(5):231-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-2494.2004.00228.x.

Bissett DL, Oblong JE, Berge CA.
Niacinamide: A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance.
Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul;31(7 Pt 2):860-5; discussion 865.

Boelsma E, Hendriks HF, Roza L.
Nutritional skin care: health effects of micronutrients and fatty acids.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 May;73(5):853-64.

Bolander FF.
Vitamins: not just for enzymes.
Curr Opin Investig Drugs. 2006 Oct;7(10):912-5.

Coderch L, López O, de la Maza A, Parra JL.
Ceramides and skin function.
Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(2):107-29.

Colombo VE, Gerber F, Bronhofer M, Floersheim GL.
Treatment of brittle fingernails and onychoschizia with biotin: scanning electron microscopy.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 1990 Dec;23(6 Pt 1):1127-32.

Diona L. Damian, Yasmin J. Matthews, Gary M. Halliday
Topical riboflavin attenuates ultraviolet B- and ultraviolet A-induced immunosuppression in humans
Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, & Photomedicine. Apr 2010; 26(2): 66-69

Guillou S, Ghabri S, Jannot C, Gaillard E, Lamour I, Boisnic S.
The moisturizing effect of a wheat extract food supplement on women’s skin: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial.
Int J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Apr;33(2):138-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2494.2010.00600.x.

Hochman LG, Scher RK, Meyerson MS.
Brittle nails: response to daily biotin supplementation.
Cutis. 1993 Apr;51(4):303-5.

Jerajani HR, Mizoguchi H, Li J, Whittenbarger DJ, Marmor MJ.
The effects of a daily facial lotion containing vitamins B3 and E and provitamin B5 on the facial skin of Indian women: a randomized, double-blind trial.
Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2010 Jan-Feb;76(1):20-6. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.58674.

Kawada A, Konishi N, Oiso N, Kawara S, Date A.
Evaluation of anti-wrinkle effects of a novel cosmetic containing niacinamide.
J Dermatol. 2008 Oct;35(10):637-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1346-8138.2008.00537.x.

Lacroix B, Didier E, Grenier JF.
Role of pantothenic and ascorbic acid in wound healing processes: in vitro study on fibroblasts.
Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1988;58(4):407-13.

Lo CS.
Riboflavin status of adolescents in southern China. Average intake of riboflavin and clinical findings.
Med J Aust. 1984 Nov 10;141(10):635-7.

Mori K, Ando I, Kukita A.
Generalized hyperpigmentation of the skin due to vitamin B12 deficiency.
J Dermatol. 2001 May;28(5):282-5.

New D, Eaton P, Knable A, Callen JP.
The use of B vitamins for cutaneous ulcerations mimicking pyoderma gangrenosum in patients with MTHFR polymorphism.
Arch Dermatol. 2011 Apr;147(4):450-3. doi: 10.1001/archdermatol.2011.77.

Pinnell SR.
Cutaneous photodamage, oxidative stress, and topical antioxidant protection.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Jan;48(1):1-19; quiz 20-2.

Rajendran Kannan, MB BS MD and Matthew Joo Ming Ng, MB BS M Med Dip OccMed FCFPS
Cutaneous lesions and vitamin B12 deficiency
An often-forgotten link

Can Fam Physician. 2008 April; 54(4): 529–532.

Tanno O, Ota Y, Kitamura N, Katsube T, Inoue S.
Nicotinamide increases biosynthesis of ceramides as well as other stratum corneum lipids to improve the epidermal permeability barrier.
Br J Dermatol. 2000 Sep;143(3):524-31.

Yoshikawa K.
Vitamin and dermatology
Nihon Rinsho. 1999 Oct;57(10):2385-9.

Zussman J, Ahdout J, Kim J.
Vitamins and photoaging: do scientific data support their use?
J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Sep;63(3):507-25.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Photosensitivity and Supplements

sun-burnAh, the red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch. Many of us have had the pleasure…or, rather, the pain. In our youth we were not told of what was to come from repeated aspirations to the beauty of the bronze. And, if we were told, we didn’t listen. If you’re a fair-haired beauty, you’re more likely to burn than your darker peers. Skin types range from very light to very dark, but you already knew that. What you may not know is that the sun’s rays penetrate all skin types and wreak havoc on your DNA. Yes, dark brown and black skin tans and burns, though burning is not so common. Ultra-violet damage can lead to serious problems, not only with your skin, but also with your eyes.

There should be a familiarity with the name, “Mayo Clinic.”  Its philosophy of putting the patient first is amply demonstrated in the high percentages of positive outcomes.  When Mayo speaks, people listen.  If you’ve had sunburn, you know the symptoms.  In a recent article by Mayo staff, the Clinic admonishes to, “See your doctor if you notice a new skin growth, a bothersome change in your skin, a change in the appearance or texture of a mole, or a sore that doesn’t heal.”  (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sunburn/DS00964).  But the Clinic adds that, “The sun can also burn your eyes.  UV light damages the retina…” and can also damage the lens, leading to “…progressive clouding of the lens (cataracts).”

If you’ve taken all the precautions and still get burned, there must be another reason.  Let’s see, hmmm, you’ve avoided the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM, when it’s the strongest, right?  You’ve been careful to cover up.  Not, if you’re looking for a tan.  You’ve slathered on gobs of sunscreen, too, eh?   Of course, you did don the shades.  How else to look cool, right?

There are alternative ways to combat the results of too much time in the sun, whose tanning effects will last for a few hours after exposure.  While it is safest to spend only twenty, or so, minutes at a time in the sun for the first few days of your vacation, that caveat is ignored.  There may be a saving grace in the judicious use of foods and supplements that provide beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A.  A German study published in 2006 states that, “Beta-carotene is a major constituent of commercially available products administered for systemic photoprotection.”  (Stahl. 2006) This piece goes on to say that beta-carotene needs to be taken at doses of almost 50,000 IU a day for about three months before such an effect becomes evident.  That’s about 30 milligrams.  There is no current tolerable upper limit for beta-carotene as there is for vitamin A, which is 10,000 IU for adults.  In an earlier study by the same research group, it was noted that, “Carotenoids are efficient in photoprotection…”  (Sies and Stahl. 2004)  Here, a decreased sensitivity against ultra-violet-induced erythema (redness) was noted.

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, found in green leafy vegetables and in supplements, are photoprotective for the eyes, where they are present in the retina and absorb blue light, thereby “protecting the underlying photoreceptor cell layer from light damage, possibly initiated by the formation of reactive oxygen species during a photosensitized reaction.”  (Krinsky. 2003)  The addition of green tea to our armamentarium helps protect skin against UV radiation and, for women especially, improves overall skin quality.  (Heinrich. 2011)  If tea is not your “cup,” you might give a go to chocolate.  UV-induced redness is inhibited and blood flow to the skin enhanced by cocoa flavonols.  (Heinrich. 2006)

But what about the PABA?  Topically, used before exposure to the sun, it absorbs ultra-violet radiation, and it will last through heavy perspiration (but not after going into the water).  It even is alleged to soothe the burn after the fact.  Orally, PABA has not shown sufficient photoprotective activity in organized studies to be recommended for everybody, but it might work for you.  However, too much PABA can backfire and cause more problems than it’s worth because it’ll stop the burn but not the alterations to DNA.  It seems to have fallen out of favor.  (Knowland. 1993)

How about the other side of the coin, the one where a supplement can cause photosensitivity?  St. John’s Wort, an herbal used to treat mild depression, may induce light / sun sensitivity, so sun avoidance is suggested—strongly.  There is no evidence to blame other supplements for photosensitive reactions.

Ultraviolet Light: The Good, The Bad, And The Sun

Summer is officially here, which means more time spent outdoors and soaking up the sun. While all that fresh air and activity is great for your health, it’s important to remember that sun exposure has its limits — and too much of a good thing can cause lasting damage. From the backyard to the beach, here’s what you need to know to keep you and your family happy and healthy all summer long.

The Good: Sunlight is a mood booster.

Exposure to sunlight increases endorphin levels. These are hormones released by the brain and nervous system that relieve stress and pain, and generally make us feel happier. That’s one way the sun “cures” seasonal affective disorder: a mild form of depression that sets in during dark winters, and abates as the days get longer in spring and summer. (Kegel, 2009) (Praschak-Rieder, 2008). Sun worshippers, rejoice!

The Good: It may help you lose weight.

Aside from the fact that we tend to be more active in warmer, sunnier months, a recent studyfrom the University of Alberta Diabetes Institute found that fat cells shrink when exposed to blue light from the sun. At this wavelength, light causes lipid molecules in the cells to reduce in size. This may contribute to the typical weight gain people experience during winter months, when their sun exposure is limited.

The Good: It helps your body produce vitamin D.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps support your body’s skeletal and immune systems. It increases the body’s ability to absorb of calcium and phosphorous, which in turn strengthens our bones. Whether from the sun, supplements, or fortified foods, Vitamin D can affect more than a thousand different genes that govern virtually every tissue in the body. (Mead, 2008). Studies suggest that vitamin D may also lower your risk of developing chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (John, 2004) (John, 2007).

The Bad: UV rays can cause serious, lasting damage to your skin..

Dry skin and premature aging are the least of your worries when it comes to overexposure to the sun. Cancer is the most serious risk associated with too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation, especially if you leave your skin unprotected.

There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVA contains the energy our bodies need daily. These rays are less intense than UVB, but travel deeper into the skin and can still cause skin disease (Haywood, 2003).

UVB causes tanning, burning, and wrinkling of the skin. This is the type of radiation that sunscreen protects against, and even short-term exposure (as little as fifteen minutes) can cause sunburn and lasting damage to cellular DNA (Krutmann, 2012).

UVC is filtered out by the (thinning) ozone layer. High exposure will also cause sunburn and possibly cancer.

Your body’s natural defense against UV rays is melanin: the natural pigment in your skin that causes you to tan. Melanin increases with moderate exposure to the sun, absorbing UV radiation and dissipating its energy as heat to prevent cell damage. But it can only do so much.

The Bad: Too much sunlight can hurt your eyes and affect your vision.

As with skin damage, the effects of radiation on your eyes is cumulative. In the cells and tissues of the eye are molecules called chromophores, which absorb light from different wavelengths at different rates. Over time, too much UV light can result in damage your cornea, lens, and retina. It can also cause cataracts; photokeratitis, a painful condition arising from too much UV exposure; and pterygium, in which tissue grows over the cornea and impairs vision. (Glazer-Hockstein, 2006) (Neale, 2003) (Solomon, 2006

So just how much sun is good for you — and how much is dangerous?

That depends on a variety of factors, including where you live, the altitude, the weather and the time of day. Generally speaking, fifteen or twenty minutes a day of sunlight, without sunscreen, is good for you — especially in the morning or evening, when the angle of the sun is low in the middle latitudes.

But during peak hours when the sun’s rays are strongest, or whenever you’re facing prolonged exposure (like a trip to the beach) there are measures you can take to protect yourself.

  • Reach for a sunscreen lotion (not a spray) that’s at least SPF 30. Be sure to re-apply it every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or exercising.
  • Wear plastic, wrap-around sunglasses, which are the most effective at blocking UV rays from all angles.
  • If you wear contacts, look for brands that are designed to effectively absorb UVB rays.
  • Do not rely on cloud cover. Just because they block the sun, doesn’t mean they are blocking UV radiation.
  • Consider other physical barriers to shield you from direct sunlight, such as clothing, hats, and umbrellas.

Let common sense prevail…

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sun exposure. Brief contact with the sun is all that’s needed to soak up the benefits; unfortunately, it’s also all that’s needed to inflict lasting damage. Using sunscreen doesn’t automatically imply protection from other damaging effects of UV radiation, including melanoma (Wolf, 1994). But in this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Don’t be a statistic. Heed our advice on protecting your eyes and skin, and you’ll have a safer, healthier, happier summer.

Wintertime Depression

concerned-young-manWhen the winter solstice occurs and the sun is above the Tropic of Capricorn, do you turn from Prince or Princess Charming into an ogre? It’s the time of year when people report feeling more depressed—overwhelmed by the impending holidays, bothered by dried out bank accounts, disconcerted by situations at work. Folks get irritated by things that don’t raise a hackle the rest of the year. They get testy, feel low or inferior, and lose energy, concentration and drive. This relationship among body, mind, and environment is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Blame it on the sun, or rather its scarcity, and the shortage of what the sun provides…vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

Even in the sunniest places on the planet, people are deficient in vitamin D. You’d think that in Oman, at twenty-one degrees north of the equator, just within the tropical zone, the people’s vitamin D stores would be sufficient to prevent signs of deficit. In that part of the world it’s significant that women are covered, and for various reasons avoid sun exposure. This interrupts the complex relationship of sunlight, cholesterol and other factors that cause the body to manufacture vitamin D. (Alshishtawy. 2011) Likewise, in Bangkok, Thailand, whose latitude is even closer to the equator, vitamin D levels are surprisingly low. People living in Thailand’s municipal areas have lower circulating vitamin D than those in the rural areas. (Chailurkit. 2011) Might there be a connection between vitamin D levels and the seasonal blues?

It’s accepted that vitamin D deficiency is rampant, and that for a variety of reasons. People fear skin cancer, so they slather themselves with sun blocker or stay indoors or under cover. Some lack the physiological ability to manufacture vitamin D, perhaps with a cholesterol level insufficient to do the job. If brain development depends on ample vitamin D stores, then brain function seems to follow, especially in the realm of cognition and behavior as they relate to the presence or absence of pro-inflammatory molecules that are modulated by the vitamin. (McCann. 2008) Because seasonal affective disorder is often recurrent and predictable with the change of seasons, internal mechanisms related to circadian rhythms that are directed by vitamin D activity have been evaluated in aspects of SAD related to the major monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. More than one vulnerability factor is suspected, including the environment and genetic susceptibility. (Levitan. 2007)

Vitamin D Deficiency Research

Studies at the University of Texas uncovered an association of high vitamin D levels to low scores on standardized measures of depression. Persons with a history of depressive symptoms were found to have lower levels of vitamin D. (Hoang. 2011) Also in 2011, Dutch scientists found similar relationships between vitamin D deficiency and depression, observing that a poor diet and lack of sun exposure were common elements. (Koater. 2011) The geriatric population is even harder hit with SAD. Their failure or inability to maintain healthy eating habits, and their often self-imposed seclusion prevent them from attaining optimal vitamin D levels through what may be considered normal daily activity by other groups. (Stalpers-Konijnenburg. 2011)

Reports abound that recommend the testing of vitamin D levels for individuals affected by depressive symptoms of any kind, including SAD. The research finds this to be a cost-effective and simple way to effect a therapy that would improve long-term health outcomes and quality of life. (Penckofer. 2010) (Humble. 2010) Additional study has tentatively linked vitamin D deficiency to autism and schizophrenia, the incidence of both hypothetically linked to developmental (prenatal) vitamin D deficiency. (Humble, Gustafsson, et al. 2010)

How To Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

Vitamin D is usually obtained from the skin through the action of ultraviolet-B radiation on a kind of cholesterol, called 7-dehydrocholesterol, after which time it gets metabolized to 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the stuff measured in a blood test). It gets further metabolized to the hormonal form, 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D. Although genetics may play a part in vitamin D blood levels, adequate calcium intake, exercise, and less obesity can help to support them. (Mason. 2011)

Almost everyone decries going to bed in the dark and then waking in the dark. Exposure to bright light in the morning can get you revved up for the day. The problem is that, when you awake in the dark, the eye sends a message to the pineal gland that it’s time to go to sleep, and melatonin is made. That resets the sleep-wake cycle. But this is supposed to happen at night. Light therapy is accepted as an effective treatment for the winter time blues. (Virk. 2009) (Pail. 2011) You can buy lamps that radiate the full spectrum of sunlight. Even your incandescent reading lamp can help. (Szadoczky. 1991) After a couple of weeks of daily use, linked with vitamin D supplementation, you’ll feel better than new.

References

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Regional variation and determinants of vitamin D status in sunshine-abundant Thailand.
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Mason RS, Sequeira VB, Gordon-Thomson C.
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McCann JC, Ames BN.
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Pail G, Huf W, Pjrek E, Winkler D, Willeit M, Praschak-Rieder N, Kasper S.
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Privitera MR, Moynihan J, Tang W, Khan A.
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Szádóczky E, Falus A, Németh A, Teszéri G, Moussong-Kovács E.
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Virk G, Reeves G, Rosenthal NE, Sher L, Postolache TT.
Short exposure to light treatment improves depression scores in patients with seasonal affective disorder: A brief report.
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