(NaturalHealth365) Although direct sunlight is an important source of beneficial vitamin D, excessive exposure can result in painful sunburn. And sunburn is by no means a rare occurrence, even with growing public awareness of the dangers.
In fact, according to the CDC, over a third of American adults report having suffered a sunburn within the past year. Now, with “sunburn season” upon us, a fascinating new study attests to the ability of high doses of vitamin D to ease sunburn by significantly reducing redness, swelling and inflammation.
What did the study show about the protective value of vitamin D?
In a double-blind clinical trial published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers administered experimental “sunburns” to 20 volunteers via an ultraviolet lamp, then gave them either placebo or varying megadoses of vitamin D in the amounts of 50,000 IU, 100,000 IU or 200,000 IU. The vitamin was given within an hour of the development of the sunburns, and the participants were evaluated at 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours and one week – by a variety of methods, including skin biopsies.
And the results were impressive – particularly in regards to the highest dosage of 200,000 IU.
The team found that this dosage afforded long-lasting benefits – which included the reduction of skin inflammation 48 hours after the “burn,” along with decreased reddening of skin and a spike in the activity of skin-repairing genes.
On the other hand, participants with lower blood levels of vitamin D did not receive the same benefits – and had higher levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals.
Amazingly, vitamin D increased expression of anti-inflammatory substances
The team reported that vitamin D helps promote and enhance protective barriers in the skin by rapidly decreasing inflammation, which it does by raising skin levels of the anti-inflammatory enzyme arginase-1. Not only does arginase-1 promote tissue repair, but it helps activate other anti-inflammatory proteins in a beneficial “chain reaction.” At the same time, vitamin D cuts inflammation by reducing expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin and tumor necrosis factor.
Senior study author Kurt Lu, MD, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, called the results “promising.” However, Lu said he did not recommend that people start treating sunburn with megadoses of vitamin D based on the study alone.
Healthy levels of vitamin D protect against disease
The ability of vitamin D to alleviate sunburn is not surprising. Earlier studies have shown that supplementation with vitamin D can relieve atopic dermatitis – or eczema – in adults and children alike.
And skin conditions such as eczema and sunburn are not the only ills that can be helped by vitamin D – this indispensable vitamin seems to have a protective effect against many serious diseases.
Extensive studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency – which is widespread in the United States – is associated with a heightened risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, respiratory infections and depression.
But, when it comes to vitamin D supplementation, mainstream medical professionals and naturopathic practitioners disagree on optimal dosages. For example, the FDA recommends a paltry 400 IU of vitamin D a day, while the Institute of Medicine sets 4,000 IU a day as the “tolerable upper level of intake” – defined as the highest level that would be unlikely to cause harm to nearly all adults.
Yet, many naturopathic practitioners recommend daily dosages in the area of 8,000 IU. And, the Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines go even further, maintaining that adults can safely take up to 10,000 IU of Vitamin D a day.
Fortunately, recent research published in Dermato-Endocrinology has offered some much-needed clarity. The study demonstrated that supplementation with 6,000 to 8,000 IU a day is needed to maintain optimal blood levels for adults.
Significantly, the researchers found no adverse effects from these dosages.
By the way, the version of vitamin D used in clinical studies is typically vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. Vitamin D3 is considered more beneficial than vitamin D2, the type available in fortified foods. In addition to obtaining vitamin D3 from exposure to direct sunlight, you can ingest it through naturally rich dietary sources such as free-range eggs, wild-caught cold-water fish, and organic soy and mushrooms.
Never forget: How to avoid sunburn by using common sense
The familiar symptoms of sunburn include reddened skin that is warm or hot to the touch, pain, tenderness, itching, inflammation and swelling.
In addition to causing discomfort, intense and repeated sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer and contribute to photoaging – two more good reasons to avoid getting burned.
In severe cases, sunburn can cause fluid-filled blisters, along with headache, fever, nausea and fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor if you experience blistering with sunburn that covers a large portion of your body, or if you have a high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills.
However, milder sunburns can be soothed with a variety of natural treatments, including aloe vera gel, honey, oatmeal paste and cool milk.
Although sunburn is a negative consequence of ultraviolet exposure, the healing rays of natural sunlight are too important to forego – or to filter out with sunscreen. In fact, natural health experts strongly advise getting twenty minutes of direct sunlight, several times a week. Staying vigilant against sunburn, while getting reasonable amounts of exposure to sunshine, is probably your best option.
Meanwhile, researchers continue to explore the potential of high-dose vitamin D to treat sunburn naturally.
Here’s to your happy – and sensible – sunbathing!
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