Healthy benefits of the sun’s rays

Assumption College Undergraduate

education summer professional development

The sun is shining, and we couldn’t help but focus this week’s post on the biological benefits of spending time in the sun. And because it will be a direct or indirect part of many of the bachelor’s in biology courses you take at Assumption – from botany to animal behavior — we found it fitting.

Recent Assumption biotechnology and molecular biology graduate Nicole Stantial worked with Professor David Crowley to study DNA repair mechanisms in microorganisms that might help explain how the particular organisms she has studied survive and flourish under harsh solar exposure in places like the Dead Sea. Her honors thesis is titled: “Repair of UV damage in actively transcribed genes of the halophilic archaeon, Haloferax volcannii.

At first, you may think about the dangers of sun exposure, especially to your skin. And while it’s important to maintain healthy practices in the sun, more and more research is showing that complete sun avoidance may be just as detrimental.

The biggest reason: Vitamin D.

Physician and Vitamin D expert Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, notes that a wealth of research has implicated Vitamin D deficiency in osteoporosis and 17 different kinds of cancer, including skin cancer.

A 2009 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that nearly 70 percent of Caucasians, 90 percent of Mexican Americans and 97 percent of African Americans in the U.S. have insufficient Vitamin D levels.

Michael Holick, professor of Medicine at Boston University, explains for Psychology Today that the skin is incredibly efficient at making Vitamin D, and the greatest source is exposure to sunlight.

“Wearing a bathing suit at Cape Cod and exposing yourself to sunlight for 15 to 30 minutes until you have a slight pinkness is equivalent to 20,000 IU of vitamin D,” Holick said. (According to Psychology Today, that’s the equivalent of the Vitamin D you would receive from drinking 200 glasses of milk!)

Getting sunlight everyday can also reduce risk of heart disease and depression, promote healthy sleep, lower blood pressure and so much more.

While it’s important to use sunscreen and limit unprotected time in the sun, studies show that taking advantage of those sunny summer days, could benefit your health just as much.

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