Although the days are noticably longer now, it is still pretty gloomy in February and it can seem like a long time until the warm sun of May. Many people find their mood low and even have bouts of depression. Other people without a young family can go off on winter sun holidays around now, but that is not an option for all of us. For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, a full spectrum light source can help, as it is thought that the lack of sunlight is what makes us depressed.
Actually, in our modern world, where we can spend 5 days a week incarcerated in an artificially lit office, the full value of natural sunlight is often forgotten. You may remember that you need vitamin D from sunlight to make strong healthy bones and teeth in children. However sunlight and vitamin D is also needed by adults to keep bones strong and healthy, especially as we age and become at risk to osteoporosis.
But that is not the end of the benefits of vitamin D. Research has found it to be essential for a strong immune system, so needed to help keep winter lurgies at bay, as well as protecting against worse things like cancer.
Vitamin D is made in the skin by the action of sunlight on a cholesterol molecule. If we didn’t have cholesterol then we wouldn’t be able to make vitamin D, so people with low cholesterol (Statins lower cholesterol) are at risk of deficiency of this essential vitamin.
Did you know that your body produces cholesterol itself in quite large amounts?
This is because the body needs it for all sorts of things like making vitamin D but it is also the basic molecule for making many hormones including the stress hormone cortisol. Even if you didn’t have any cholesterol containing food, like butter or cheese, your body would still make around 1000mg a day – because it is essential.
Vitamin D is also found in some animal products like butter but not in very high quantities. As the body is quite good at storing it, what we really need is a good long dose of sun in the summer and early autumn to carry us through the winter. Then when the first warm weather comes we need to sit outside in our favourite sunny spot and soak up the rays. It is possible to take it as a supplement too and it works well for people whose immune system is compromised and for some people with SAD.
There has been such bad press about sun over-exposure and skin cancer that medical advice has everyone reaching for the high potency sun block to stop any possible rays from penetrating our skin. You can see now, covering our skin in clothes and chemical films might not be the best policy.
In fact what we really need is plenty of sun but not enough to get burnt, which will of course vary from one person to another. Either leave off the full sun block and spend a shorter time in the sun, or get the best quality filters creams that allow the less harmful rays in.
I am have found that Green People and Dr Haushka products are very good at preventing sunburn, while still letting enough sun through to make my skin tan.
And of course, sun light lifts our mood and makes us feel better. We are more than half way through February, so not so many weeks until we get some sun – hopefully!