Sun’s Out…Guts Out? The Link Between Sun Exposure and Gut Health

Summer’s almost here, which means we’re talking about sun exposure. But also your gut, because yeah, pretty much everything under the sun (and including the sun!) is connected to the gut microbiome. That’s right, we’re talking about how catching some rays can affect your gut health. Believe it or not, there’s some evidence to suggest that sun exposure can both help and hurt your gut. Let’s dive into the science behind it all.

First, the good news: sun exposure can actually be beneficial for your gut health. How? Well, the sun is our main source of vitamin D, and vitamin D is essential for a healthy gut. Studies have shown that vitamin D can help reduce inflammation in the gut, which can lead to a host of gut problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, one study found that people with IBD were more likely to have low levels of vitamin D than those without the condition.

But before you go out and get a sunburn in the name of gut health, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you don't need a ton of sun exposure to get your daily dose of vitamin D. The sweet spot is roughly 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day (without sunscreen). Second, excessive sun exposure can actually be harmful to your gut health (and your overall health). Sunburns don’t just cause inflammation of your skin, but throughout the whole body, including in the gut, and this overall inflammation can even lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Not to be a dark cloud on a sunny day, but skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with over 5 million cases diagnosed each year.

So, what's the bottom line? Sun exposure can be beneficial for your gut health and honestly, nothing feels better than sitting in the sun on a warm day, but it's important to be smart about it. Here are 7 solar-powered facts and sunny-side up tips to get your vitamin D without the burn:

  • Vitamin D deficiency is estimated to affect over 1 billion people worldwide.
  • In the United States, 42% of adults are deficient in vitamin D.
  • In addition to gut health, vitamin D is important for bone health, immune function, and brain health.
  • One study found that people who live in sunnier climates have a lower risk of IBD than those who live in less sunny areas.
  • Get your vitamin D from food sources, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products, in addition to sun exposure.
  • If you do get sun exposure, wear protective clothing and sunscreen to prevent sunburns and gut damage.
  • If you have a history of skin cancer or are at a high risk for it, talk to your doctor about the best ways to protect your skin (and your gut!) while still getting enough vitamin D.
In conclusion, think of the sun as a frenemy: really fun to hang out with sometimes, but not necessarily the best thing for you all the time. Soak up those rays (in moderation) and enjoy the benefits of vitamin D, but don't forget to protect your skin—and your gut—as well.

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