Health & Environment

Health Column: Our love/hate relationship with the sun

A sunrise captured last April in New Suffolk. (Credit: Wendy Zuhoski, file)
A sunrise captured last April in New Suffolk. (Credit: Wendy Zuhoski, file)

It’s kind of incredible how one’s worries can melt away when out in the sunshine, which mental health experts say is an easy cure for the blues. “I have talked to a lot of therapists,” said Southold therapist Susan Dingle, “and everybody knows that in the summer, people don’t come for therapy as often. A sunny day at the beach does seem to be a very good cure for any mild case of the blahs.”

Ms. Dingle said those sunny rays have a positive impact on both vitamin D for the body, and serotonin for the mind.

Vitamin D plays a role in fi ghting diseases and maintaining bone strength, while serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and behavior, among other things, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods, a sense of calmness and the ability to focus, Ms. Dingle said.

“In the winter, people tend to feel really low,” she said, describing what is otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year.

“It’s partly simply because they are not getting as much sun, so their serotonin level is going to dip,” Ms. Dingle said.

When a person’s body and eyes sense sunlight, serotonin levels begin to increase — directly affecting and uplifting one’s mood.

Vitamin D, on the other hand, is both a nutrient and a hormone that our bodies produce.

When the sun’s ultraviolet (UVB) rays hit the skin, the body manufactures vitamin D from cholesterol. The paler one’s skin type, the more easily it can produce vitamin D, according to the not-forprofi t Vitamin Council.

Har vard researchers have found that vitamin D deficiencies may increase the risk of chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and some cancers. It may also increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal fl u.

About 8 percent of Americans have a serious vitamin D deficiency and another 25 percent are considered “at risk” of a deficiency, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But it’s important to remember that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays increases the risk of skin cancer, noted Dr. Alexis Hugelmeyer of the Suah Center for Natural Healthcare in Riverhead.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “There is no scientifi – cally validated, safe threshold level of UV exposure from the sun that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk.”

Dr. Hugelmeyer said she recommends people use a water-resistant, UVA and UVB blocking sunscreen with at least 30 SPF year round, regardless of skin tone.

Luckily, it’s still possible to get the benefi ts of vitamin D and your daily dose of sunshine.

People who are strict with their sunscreen regimens can still get their recommended daily amount of vitamin D through foods or dietary supplements. A 2010 study conducted by the nonprofit Institute of Medicine recommends 600 milligrams per day.
Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].