Come on Harvard…

Today I got the June edition of Nutrition Source Update, an e-newsletter from the Harvard School of Public Health, which claims “to help you cut through confusing information and find practical strategies for healthy eating”. It is often filled with so-called conventional wisdom but this month I read the email summary and went, “oh geez…”

It started off promising with an article about sleep and obesity. I was pleasantly surprised as it seems like more and more people are waking up to the important of sleep in health and obesity.

But then I read this…

Vitamin D and summer sunshine
sun vitamin d

Now that summer is officially here, you are probably spending more time outside in the sun. Spending just 15 minutes in the summer sun can boost your body’s production of vitamin D—if you are not wearing sunscreen. But ditching the sunscreen is not a good idea: The American Academy of Dermatologists says that there’s no safe level of sunlight exposure that allows you to make vitamin D without increasing skin cancer risk. Their advice? Use sunscreen or other sun protection daily, skip the tanning booths, and get your vitamin D from diet or supplements.

It’s important to note that some vitamin D experts take issue with the American Academy of Dermatologists’ hard line on sun exposure, and recommend a more moderate option: Put sunscreen on your face, and allow your arms and legs to get a small amount of unprotected sun exposure—say, 15 minutes max—before applying sunscreen or covering up. It’s still a matter of scientific debate.

Did anyone else catch that little bit from the American Academy of Dermatologists?

“…there’s no safe level of sunlight exposure that allows you to make vitamin D without increasing skin cancer risk.”

What? You can’t be in the sun for 10 minutes or you increase your risk of skin cancer? Are you kidding me?

The sun, which gives us the ability to live and is our main source of vitamin D is more likely to kill us than help us?


Humans have evolved with the sun as a major part of their existence. The idea that now it poses this remarkable danger just doesn’t make any sense. We have plenty of mechanisms in place to absorb sunlight and thrive off of that exposure. Just think about it. Humans can’t have direct contact with sunlight or our cancer risk goes up? Maybe the people over at the AAD have been watching too many Twilight movies.

The article does mention that vitamin D experts have an issue with the AAD stance and suggests a compromise of …

“Put sunscreen on your face, and allow your arms and legs to get a small amount of unprotected sun exposure—say, 15 minutes max—before applying sunscreen or covering up.”

Better, but, really? Are humans now that weak? We can handle a small bit on our arms and legs but not on our face, 15 minutes max but then slather on a tube of chemicals and that’s healthier? C’mon Harvard.

In the article, it is quite apparent that vitamin D is important…

Because research conducted over the past decade suggests that vitamin D plays a much broader disease-fighting role than once thought. Being “D-ficient” may increase the risk of a host of chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, some cancers, and multiple sclerosis, as well as infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal flu.

I would agree, it is massively important. But the answer is not fortified foods and supplements. The answer is the sun. “Free D”. Use it or lose it, just like everything else. Did anyone there think that maybe the reason we have such a problem is that we don’t get the sun on our skin enough?

Now that I am done venting, let’s talk common sense. I am not advocating baking in the sun. Get sun exposure to your tolerance. If it’s been a while, go slowly. Work up to more and more. The body will adapt to progressive proper exposure- it’s called a tan or a healthy glow. Red skin and sun burns are a sign you went a bit too far. If you know you are going to be at a soccer tournament for 6 hours, use your common sense. Bring an umbrella or a hat. If you are interested in low toxin sunscreen, check out Badger, it has the most natural ingredients of any I’ve seen.

Vitamin D is one of the most important things in human health. It is because we have evolved being exposed to the sun. Take that relationship away via being indoors too much, slathering on sunscreen when we do go outside, eating refined foods that don’t support healthy D production, forcing the body into limiting resources for making it (cholesterol reduction) and just being afraid of the sun in general and it’s no surprise we have a vitamin D deficiency epidemic with health problems to match.

The bottom line: use your common sense and get your Free D. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Thanks for reading, have a sunny day!

P.S. Two side notes. First: healthy diets, based on real, whole foods (including traditional foods like cod liver oil) support vitamin D production and give the skin much higher resilience to burning. Second: In times of major D deficiency (which you can easily get tested for via your doctor or online), supplemental D or even the use of light therapy may be warranted. The most bioavailable supplemental source of vitamin D I have found is Carlson’s Vitamin D Drops.

Here’s the full article on Vitamin D and Health from Harvard School of Public Health.


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