Sunny side up

The irony is that here in metro Phoenix, a place that enjoys more sunny days than almost anywhere else in the country, people may be unknowingly suffering from the effects of sun-deprivation.

The irony is that here in metro Phoenix, a place that enjoys more sunny days than almost anywhere else in the country, people may be unknowingly suffering from the effects of sun-deprivation.

by Dr. Matthew C. Marturano — 

People living in the middle of the desert tend to get a bit skittish about the sun. Concerns about skin cancer, coupled with the discomfort of the summer heat, can keep folks scurrying back and forth from building to vehicle to building throughout the summer months. The irony is that here in metro Phoenix, a place that enjoys more sunny days than almost anywhere else in the country, people may be unknowingly suffering from the effects of sun-deprivation.

We are all aware that food, water and air are essential to human life. A lesser-known fact is that the body also requires regular exposure to the UV rays of the sun in order to function properly. Chemical reactions occur when sunlight interacts with the skin, causing the body to produce vitamin D, a fat-soluble hormone traditionally known for its role in the regulation of calcium metabolism.

More recently, research has demonstrated that the role of vitamin D may be much more significant than previously suspected. Not only do people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis, but they are also less likely to contract heart disease and diabetes, as well as prostate, breast and colon cancers.

But how much is enough? Fortunately, the body works efficiently enough that even 10 to 20 minutes of exposure to the sun is sufficient to supply it with enough vitamin D for the day. Moreover, because vitamin D is fat-soluble, the body has a greater capacity for storing it than is available to most other nutrients. So a weekly sunbath is probably sufficient to keep your vitamin D stores up to par.

Fish also provide a plentiful source of vitamin D for those of us with limited sun exposure, as well as a multitude of other nutrients essential to maintaining health and vitality. There is some question about the bioavailability of vitamin D in artificially fortified foods such as milk, so it might be best to stick to more natural sources for this important nutrient.

As for concerns about the harmful effects of UV exposure, remember that risks for developing skin cancer come into play only with prolonged exposure to the sun that results in sunburn. Hourly application of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater will protect the average person from the harmful effects of UV exposure. Of course, it is prudent to perform regular inspections of your skin to screen for any suspicious-looking lesions and to notify your doctor about any concerns you may have. When detected in the early stages, skin cancer is highly treatable and, in most cases, curable.

Make sure that whatever your summertime activities may be, they include regular exposure to the sun. It can be one of the best things you do for your health and wellness.

 

Dr. Matthew C. Marturano is a naturopathic physician and owner of Sun Valley Integrative Medicine in Tempe, Ariz. His practice focuses on the prevention and treatment of diabetes, arthritis, anxiety and depression. 480-797-4981.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 3, June/July 2005.

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