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sunshineAn anti-inflammatory journey to the sun

It’s now day seven of my holiday in Israel and I have some anti-inflammatory news. I’m not going to tell you about the sightseeing tours, the cafe culture or the hoards of beautiful people that line the beaches. I want to talk about the sunshine, the temperature and the food.

As I boarded the flight seven days ago I was not feeling my best. The cold that had started two weeks ago was still apparent and I was suffering from some stiff and aching joints. Not the greatest start to a holiday! This morning I awoke feeling well, the joint pain had gone and as far as I can remember the cold went days ago.

So what has changed from being in the UK? Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find the time or the place to do yoga, but I have been stretching out twice a day and done a lot of walking. I’ve cut down on food from three meals a day to just two, one of which is always a massive salad, and I‘ve snacked only on fresh fruit. These aforementioned things are all within my control and I could do them any time or anywhere. However, what I can’t control is the weather. So far, every day here has been one of endless sunshine with average temperatures well into the high thirties Celsius and despite being slathered in factor 50 sun block I am beginning to show signs of a tan. Could it be the heat and sunshine making the anti-inflammatory difference? I say this because on the two occasions this holiday when I was travelling in a chilly air-conditioned car for a couple of hours at a time, my shoulders quickly stiffened up and became painful. This brings to mind a conversation I had with a friend of mine from New Zealand who is a neurologist and who has studied the effects of sunshine on auto-immune diseases. Apparently there are twice as many cases of MS (multiple sclerosis) per head of population in New Zealand’s South Island as in the North Island. With the North Island being the closer to the equator and having more sunshine, its inhabitants have much more opportunity to generate Vitamin D simply by stepping outside. Indeed my friend went on to say that the nearer you get to the equator, the lower the prevalence of auto-immune diseases.

In 2013, www.medicalnewstoday.com published the results of a 30 year study which showed that women who had elevated rates of exposure to the sun’s UVB rays were 21% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.(1)  In 2010 www.arthritis-research.com published research which concluded that Vitamin D played a key role in the regulation of the immune system and a “deficiency in Vitamin D may be a risk in developing auto-immune and other chronic diseases”. (2)

I have never been a fan of sunbathing and always listened carefully to warnings of sun damage to skin and the risks of skin cancer. Even when exposed to relatively mild sunshine in the UK I have always applied factor 20 or used physical barriers such as a hat, a bandana and long sleeves. Perhaps this is something I need to review or at least re-balance in the interests of maintaining my levels of Vitamin D.