The good, the bad, and the ugly Prarie Doc 5-8-13

Posted May 7, 2013 at 10:48 am


Life often requires balancing good with bad.

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Many Dakota prairie people have had a lifetime of soaking in the sun while putting out the wash on the clothes line, planting and cultivating corn, harvesting wheat, or putting up hay. And don’t forget sitting on a boat waiting for the walleye to bite, hitting a little white ball around trying to put it into a hole in the ground, or laying on a towel feeling the warm rays console after a too-long Dakota winter.

It turns out that all those rays from the sun do something very good and important for us, but at the same time, do something that can be very bad.

First the advantages: Exposure to the sun allows for melatonin level swings that encourages a good night’s sleep and a positive mood. Also the sun provides for the natural production of vitamin D that stimulates calcium and phosphate regulation, which in turn encourages bone growth and proper remodeling.

Although not proven, vitamin D is thought to be important also in cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, elderly falls reduction, immune function, all bringing a reduced death rate. We need more data to prove these last theories, but to sum it up: Not only do plants need the sun but humans do too.

Scientists say that north of the 42nd parallel, or at about Omaha, the sun’s energy is insufficient for vitamin D synthesis from November through February. Related is the condition we experience up here called seasonal affective disorder, or the winter blues. It is a real depressive condition due to not enough light, treated simply by giving those affected more exposure to the beams of the sun, or another strong source of light.

On the other hand, there are disadvantages to too much sun, especially in those light-skinned, red or blonde-headed, blue-eyed Scandinavian/German/Scotch-Irish type. UV radiation is toxic to the skin and it is the lifetime exposure that counts up. I see the ravages of Ol’ Sol on the face of my patients with premature aging and cancers of several types. They come in with excessive wrinkles, sores that don’t heal, scales that are turning into little horns, and pigmented spots that are spreading.

How can something so good be also so bad?

Bottom line, enjoy the sun, but balance with sun screening, checking vitamin D levels, and seeing your doctor when skin bumps change.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public. “On Call” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “

The good, the

bad, and the ugly

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