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Sunlight: A Lot More Than Just Vitamin D

October 10, 2016
You know that we need vitamin D and that we get it only from sunshine. (Well, a tiny bit is artificially added to milk and cod liver oil has some in it.) And you know that, in Wisconsin, we stop making vitamin D about October 1, not because it’s cold and cloudy but because the angle of the sun is now so low that almost all UVB is filtered out by the atmosphere. And you know that you need to have a blood level of at least 32 nanograms and optimally in the range of 45-55, which most folks can achieve with 20,000 iu a week. Ok, so far, so good.

But we feel different in winter, and the human body makes a whole host of other chemicals and hormones in response to sunlight. If you feel that your mood changes in the winter, read on. Here is the explanation:

First of all, as reported in Science News, elegant research in the journal, Cell, shows that mice exposed to UVB radiation increase the amount of β-endorphin in their blood. It goes away in about a week. β-endorphin isn’t there for your pleasure seeking feelings, it’s present throughout your body and plays a role in many processes, including part of your immune balancing system. When the mice were given a blocking drug to morphine called naloxone, they actually showed some signs of withdrawal, as though they were habituated or addicted to the sunlight. Don’t you feel good when you get good bright sunlight?

Serotonin is one of your happy hormones. Bit by bit we are assembling evidence that sunlight makes for more serotonin. Whether it’s through vitamin D production leading to more serotonin or other complex processes, we aren’t sure, but sunlight does cheer you up. Oxytocin is your bonding hormone. Without it, mother mice reject their babies. With it, we bond and feel great attachment to our mates and our offspring. Again, sunlight appears to increase oxytocin release.

Finally, there is dopamine. It is part of our portfolio of happy hormones. It appears that you might need at least 30 minutes to increase dopamine receptors and thereby increase sensitivity to dopamine, but sunlight does it.

So what’s a person to do in Wisconsin to keep our mood up when the sun goes down? Well, first and foremost, think about the portfolio of hormones that are affected by sunlight and consider other means by which you can increase them. A good night’s sleep, good exercise, entertaining positive thinking, keeping up on supplementation of vitamin D, enjoying the pleasure of good friends, participating in strong community and loving family all seems to make good sense—and good hormones.

WWW—What will work for me? I take 20,000 IU of D a week and 50,000 IU when I get a cold. I try to keep exercising regularly so that I get sweaty enough to take a shower. I haven’t had many vegetable oils, but I’ve had lots of vegetables. But I’m really thinking about is a nice trip to someplace sunny. Wouldn’t that be nice? Visualize that five-mile long beach and how good you feel when you are walking on it.

John E. Whitcomb, M.D. is founder and medical director of Brookfield Longevity & Healthy Living Clinic. He is a Yale University School of Medicine graduate and is board certified in holistic and integrative medicine from Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.

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