Memorial Day weekend has arrived once again, marking the unofficial start of yet another summer season. And with vaccination rates climbing and restrictions lifting, things are shaping up to be more “normal” than they’ve been in a long while.
But that doesn’t mean this pandemic is over. We’ve still got a ways to go before we’re out of the woods. And as always, I will be the first to urge continued vigilance.
The good news is, the return of summer helps make staying healthy easier for everyone. Assuming, of course, you’re soaking up some good, old-fashioned sunshine every single day…
Sunlight saves lives
Scottish researchers looked at all recorded COVID-19 deaths that occurred in the U.S. between January and April 2020. Then, they compared them to ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure levels in nearly 2,500 American counties during the same time frame.
Turns out, people living in areas with the highest UVA ray exposure (those are the rays that make up 95 percent of the sun’s light) had a lower risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to people in areas with lower levels of UVA exposure.
And get this: Researchers found the same association when they repeated their analysis in England and Italy. Even after accounting for a whole host of factors—including age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, air pollution, temperature, population density, and local infection rates.
But the craziest part? This death risk reduction appeared to be completely independent of vitamin D levels… suggesting that it’s sunshine’s other benefits at work here.
Like the fact that sunlight exposure triggers the release of nitric oxide (NO) in the skin. And some research suggests this might make it harder for the novel coronavirus to replicate.
But that’s not the only benefit of NO release. It also acts as a potent vasodilator—balancing blood pressure and boosting cardiovascular health. (Both of which play a key role in COVID-19 complications.)
A few important caveats
I’ve been an unapologetic sunseeker my whole life. I just feel better when I’m getting more sun—and science continues to offer plenty of explanations why.
Plus, we’ve known since the very beginning of this pandemic that ample vitamin D levels are protective against both infection and complications. (That’s just one reason why this supplement has always been a cornerstone of my immune protocol, my Complete Guide to Year-Round Immunity.)
So while it may not have played a role in this particular finding, there’s little question that it does make a difference.
If nothing else, this research is a timely reminder that one of the most powerful keys to good health is waiting right outside your front door.
There are, however, a few important caveats…
The first is that, even in the summer, don’t expect sun exposure to completely replace your daily D3 supplement. In fact, in order to stop supplementing altogether, you’d have to live in South Florida or the very Southern part of Texas. If you don’t, D supplementation remains crucial.
I generally recommend a minimum of 50 mcg (2,000 IU) to 125 mcg (5,000 IU) daily, alongside ample “sunbathing.” (Aim for maximum skin exposure during mid-day, without sunscreen, for 15 to 20 minutes daily.) But if you aren’t able to routinely soak up the sun, I recommend supplementing with 250 mcg (10,000 IU), year-round. (Just remember to get your blood levels screened every six months to ensure you’re maintaining “optimal” levels, as I often report.)
Secondly, while I don’t urge you to hide from the sun, this isn’t carte blanche to grab the baby oil and foil tanning reflector. Skin cancer and premature aging are both very real concerns. So smart sun protection throughout the summer is still a good idea.
“Sunlight linked with lower COVID-19 deaths, study shows.” Science Daily, 04/09/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210408212954.htm)