The Sun can save your life

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

We’ve entered the year’s three-month period of highest-intensity sunlight. Will you embrace it, or hide from it?

My book The Sun’s Heartbeat, now out in paperback and on Kindle (Little Brown), spends two chapters on the Sun’s role in health. Is it more bad for us, considering skin cancer risks, or good for us, given the salutary benefits of vitamin D?

Dr. John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council, whom I interviewed twice, is a fanatical believer that natural sunlight is vital, and cannot be replaced by vitamin D supplements. Now comes some intriguing support for this view.

First, here’s Cannell’s bottom line: You should get as much sun as you can without burning. Do not use sunscreen unless needed to prevent a burn. In terms of statistics, 8,000 Americans die annually from melanoma. But, the council estimates, some 250,000 other Americans would have prevented various annual cancer deaths if only they had received adequate sunlight.

“Nature never meant us to be mole people, hiding behind sunscreen and UV-blocking glass. After school, kids should be playing outdoors, not glued to indoor videogames,” says Cannell.

The latest support comes from Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who has been conducting research for more than three decades. She also has an undergraduate degree in Biology from MIT, with a minor in Food and Nutrition. In a recent interview, she said that conventional medicine is seriously confused about cholesterol, which is closely interrelated with sulfur – and that healthy cholesterol and sulfur levels are highly dependent on vitamin D levels.

This gets complicated, so bear with me as I paraphrase an interview that I’ll cite at the end, if you’d like to go online to see it.

Today’s standard medical view connects high cholesterol/LDL levels with heart disease, and suggests that LDL-reducing statin drugs are the answer. However, according to Dr. Seneff, a person with high LDL probably got that way because the body needs it to manufacture cholesterol sulfate, which the heart requires to function properly. Hence, simply removing the LDL also removes the body’s “backup” mechanism to keep the heart healthy. But, since high LDL is correlated with cardiovascular disease, how can the body produce cholesterol sulfate without the harmful LDL? How is it produced under normal, healthy conditions?

This is where sun exposure comes in. When skin is exposed to sunshine, it synthesizes vitamin D3 sulfate. This form of vitamin D is water-soluble, unlike oral vitamin D3 supplements, which are unsulfated. The water-soluble form can travel freely in your bloodstream, whereas the unsulfated form needs LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) as a vehicle of transport.

Dr. Seneff suspects that vitamin D supplements will not provide the same benefits as the vitamin D created in your skin from sun exposure, because it cannot be converted to vitamin D sulfate. “This is yet another reason to really make a concerted effort to get all your vitamin D requirements from exposure to sunshine!” she says.

Moreover, she adds, “I think it’s the sulfated form of vitamin D that offers the protection from cancer. It strengthens your immune system. It protects you from cardiovascular disease. It’s good for your brain. It helps depression. I think all of those effects of vitamin D are effects of vitamin D sulfate.”

As for the fear of skin cancer, Dr. Seneff states that “Both cholesterol and sulfur afford protection in the skin from radiation damage to the cells’ DNA – the kind of damage that can lead to skin cancer. Cholesterol and sulfur become oxidized upon exposure to the high-frequency rays in sunlight, thus acting as antioxidants to ‘take the heat,’ so to speak. Oxidation of cholesterol is also the first step in the process by which cholesterol transforms itself into vitamin D3.”

What’s inarguable is that our bodies were designed to be exposed to the rays of the Sun, which, according to Drs. Cannell and Seneff, contain the necessary mechanisms to extract or produce beneficial nutrients from it while also shielding itself from harm. “Circumventing this natural process, either by using sunblock or staying out of the sun entirely, makes us lose all the health benefits and gives a variety of disease processes free rein.”

But a balance is necessary. The key is to avoid burning. If you have fair skin or hair, you already know that you must judiciously limit your exposure.

The full Stephanie Seneff article, which includes her proselytizing about sulfur, can be found at

Some May sunbathing, anyone?



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