As early as toddlerhood, our mothers introduced us to the wonders of slathering on sunscreen before every pool and beach activity, teaching us never to spend too much time under the sun if we want to avoid sunburn, getting premature wrinkles, or worse… developing skin cancer.
But shunning the sun completely might not be a good idea, either. According to researchers from Harvard and the US Nat’l Library of Medicine, boarding yourself up indoors means you don’t get enough vitamin D (or the “sunshine vitamin”), which is the chemical by-product of our skin’s exposure to the sun.
But exactly what happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough sun?
1. You’re at risk of being depressed.
According to a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry that included more than 31,000 participants, when you are lacking in vitamin D you are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than those with higher levels.
“Basically, it comes down to levels of the hormone serotonin in your brain,” explains Wesley Delbridge, RN, spokesperson for the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics. “With exposure to bright light, like sunlight, serotonin will increase.”
In layman’s terms: the more time you spend under the sun, the happier you become. So during the bleak winter months when there is almost no daylight, you can take advantage of light therapy to keep you peppy.
2. You’re more likely to succumb to cancer.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism claims that cancer patients with higher levels of vit D upon diagnosis tend to live longer and remain in remission longer than patients who had insufficient amounts of the vitamin. In fact, researchers found that with every 10-point increase in vit D levels, there was a correlated 4% increase in a patient’s chances of survival.
They observed that the connection was strongest in patients with lymphoma, and colorectal cancer. But they found the results to be even more pronounced in breast cancer: patients with healthy vit D levels are twice as likely to outlive those with deficiencies, according to the journal Anticancer Research.
3. Your chances of developing aggressive prostate cancer are higher.
According to a study in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, men with low levels of vit D have a higher risk of acquiring aggressive prostate cancer by up to 5 times as much as men with adequate levels of vit D. Although it’s unclear why this is the case, researchers say that screening for vit D deficiency and treating it could become an essential part of prostate cancer care.
4. You may likely develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A study in the journal Neurology found the following correlations between vitamin D deficiency and the risk of developing cognitive diseases:
- 53% increased risk of developing dementia (moderately deficient)
- 125% increased risk of developing dementia (severely deficient)
- up to 122% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Although further research is required to properly understand the correlation, one thing is known for sure: as you age, not only are you more at risk of developing neurological conditions, your skin’s ability to covert sunlight into vitamin D becomes less and less effective.
5. You may be more likely to have psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that affects about 30% of psoriasis patients wherein the immune system attacks the joints, causing pain and inflammation. According to the journal Arthritis Care & Research, as much as 62% of patients suffering from psoriatic arthritis have low levels of vit D.
6. You may develop severe heart disease.
American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session found that the risk of heart disease is higher in people with insufficient vit D levels: chances of developing coronary heart disease is 32%, with a 20% likelihood of it being severe and affecting multiple blood vessels. Researchers say that vit D aids in improving your body’s immune function and controls inflammation, which can help decrease the risk of developing heart-related ailments.
7. You may acquire pneumonia.
Pneumonia is 2.5 times more likely to affect people with low vit D levels compared to those with sufficient amounts, researchers at the University of Eastern Finland found. Previous studies have shown that deficiency in vit D leads to a weak immune system and therefore increases the risk of catching illnesses such as respiratory infections.
8. You’re more at risk of being developing schizophrenia.
Vitamin D deficiency leads to a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to reports from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, there is much to be learned about the role vitamin D plays in psychiatric health.
9. It may speed up multiple sclerosis.
Recent studies suggest that patients with multiple sclerosis and low levels if vitamin D carry the risk of speeding up the severity and progression of the disease. Journal JAMA Neurology published that during the early stages of the disease, patients with healthy levels of vit D had a 57% lower rate of new brain lesions and a 57% lower relapse rate than patients with insufficient vit D levels. Researchers suggest that the identification and treatment of vit D deficiency should be included in the care of newly-diagnosed patients, as they may also improve the effectiveness of certain therapies as interferon beta-1b.
10. You have a greater risk of dying prematurely.
Those with low levels of vit D have higher chances of passing away sooner than their healthier counterparts, according to an analysis of 32 studies published in The American Journal of Public Health. Vitamin D levels of less than 30 ng/mL lead to the highest risk for premature death. However, more doesn’t necessarily mean better: researchers found no additional health advantages for people with vit D levels above 50 ng/mL.