The Sun is Good Medicine

The Sun is Good Medicine

Many people have been told sunlight is dangerous and to never go outside without being covered up completely or slathered with sunscreen. They have been lead to believe that the sun will immediately damage their skin and cancer is inevitable. Some think they can get all the vitamin D they need from fortified foods. But, is all this really true? In short, no.

Excess sunlight over time can damage skin. Two things which will prevent skin damage from sunlight: a tan (or dark skin) and vitamin-D. Vitamin-D mainly comes from skin exposure to sunlight. Skin darkening also occurs from safe sunlight exposure. Sunscreen prevents tanning and it prevents the production of vitamin-D in the skin. 

Vitamin-D is an important vitamin and acts like a hormone in our body. It’s involved in more than 2,000 genes. It is essential for our health and low levels have been associated with various disease states, including osteoarthritis.

When people age, they lose the ability to synthesize the vitamin-D through sun exposure, which puts older people at greater risk for deficiency and the associated diseases. Vitamin-D deficiency and osteoarthritis symptoms have some overlap. Those with osteoarthritis suffer from joint pain, muscle wasting and decreased motion in their joints, often increasing in severity with age. 

Symptoms of vitamin-D deficiency include greater joint pain, poor muscle function and progression of osteoarthritis. Current estimations are that more than 40 percent of Americans are deficient with the highest rate seen in African Americans (82.1 percent), followed by Hispanics (69.2 percent).

Getting enough vitamin-D is involved in preventing most autoimmune diseases, cancers, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and viral infections! For optimal health, one needs lots of vitamin-D. It comes from sunshine when the sun is high overhead, from certain foods and from vitamin supplements. 

Maintaining a proper vitamin-D blood level can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Will supplementation with Vitamin-D help? In many cases, yes. Studies have shown that Vitamin-D supplementation may help decrease chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis. An Archives of Osteoporosis study showed that those suffering from knee osteoarthritis combined with vitamin-D deficiency had improved muscle strength, better knee function and reduced pain with vitamin-D supplements. This combination resulted in less risk of falls and an overall improved quality of life.

How does vitamin-D do this? It has protective effects on cell function and therefore less inflammation. It also may be that osteoarthritis pain leads to reduced physical activity, including outdoor activity, which would lend to the decreased vitamin-D levels from sun exposure.

This includes the most common cause of musculoskeletal disability and pain osteoarthritis. A vitamin-D supplement with adequate and regular sunlight provides a simple, safe and inexpensive option to consider for improving muscle strength and function along with pain reduction. 

Speak to a provider up on the latest research to test vitamin-D levels and determine how to best achieve and maintain a healthy level.


Dr. Tim Heath DC, MBA, CCEP; is board-certified primary care doctor and runs Optimized Wellness Center a multidisciplinary functional medicine practice in Alameda. Make an appointment at 510-497-4424