Parkinson’s disease is a common nerve disease, and it is caused by deterioration of brain cells that produce dopamine. It is characterized by tremors, muscle rigidity, shuffling gait, slow speech, and a mask-like facial expression. In addition, even simple movements may become difficult for the person suffering from the disease. And, the disease is a killer that takes the lives of 14,593 per year. So how do we prevent it? In this blog, I will explain the disease, show what the research says about sunlight, and make recommendations for prevention.
Research points out that Sun exposure is the key to prevention of Parkinson’s disease.
Several studies have shown that there is a close association between sunlight exposure, blood vitamin D levels and Parkinson’s. First of all, one paper showed that when vitamin D levels are low, there is a tripling of the risk. Another study from China demonstrated that persons with highest levels of blood vitamin D had a 48% decrease in risk. And, that same research demonstrated that those receiving the greatest sun exposure had about a 47% decrease in risk. So, based on those findings, one might think that vitamin D supplements could prevent the disease. Yet, that thought is erroneous. Sun exposure is the direct key for preventing this debilitating disease.
Vitamin D supplements do not stop Parkinson’s, so how can that be?
Recent research, a systematic review and meta-analysis, is most noteworthy. And it explains this interesting paradox. It showed that sun exposure was significantly associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s. Especially relevant is the fact that those persons with plenty of sun exposure had only 1/50 the risk of Parkinson’s. That is an astounding figure! However, although vitamin D supplements were effective in raising vitamin D levels, they had no significant benefits for Parkinson’s disease.
Vitamin D and sun exposure are not the same.
While sun exposure and supplements both raise vitamin D levels, supplements are no help to Parkinson’s sufferers. Hence, we must look beyond vitamin D for an answer. Sun exposure leads to the production of vitamin D, but it also leads to the production of dopamine. Dopamine, as previously mentioned, is a vital chemical for the brain as regards Parkinson’s. Vitamin D is a marvelous, vital photoproduct and is due to sun exposure. It is vital for human health. However, it appears that vitamin D does nothing for Parkinson’s. Most of all, we must remember that sun exposure produces many essential photoproducts beyond vitamin D.
Vitamin D blood levels, in the case of Parkinson’s and some other diseases, are simply surrogate measurements of sun exposure. We simply cannot substitute a vitamin D pill for sun exposure and expect to reap all the benefits of sunlight. The “holistic” sun will never be supplanted by a capsule. The sun stimulates the production of vitamin D, dopamine, nitric oxide, serotonin, endorphins, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and other photoproducts. And, all of these photoproducts play their roles in human health. For some diseases, vitamin D is vital for prevention. In others such as Parkinson’s, it is just along for the ride.
The takeaway regarding sun exposure and Parkinson’s.
To help prevent this disease, be sure to obtain plenty of non-burning sunlight. And In lieu of that, when there is no sunlight available, use a low-pressure sunbed (tanning bed) in a salon. Always remember not to burn. For more information, read my new book, Embrace the Sun, available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Embrace-Sun-Marc-B-Sorenson/dp/069207600X
 Knekt P, Kilkkinen A, Rissanen H, Marniemi J, Sääksjärvi K, Heliövaara M. Serum vitamin D and the risk of Parkinson disease. Arch Neurol. 2010 Jul;67(7):808-11.
 Wang J, Yang D, Yu Y, Shao G. Wang Q. Vitamin D and Sunlight Exposure in Newly-Diagnosed Parkinson’s Disease. Nutrients 2016;8:142.
 Zhou Z, Zhou R, Zhang Z, Li K. The Association between Vitamin D Status, Vitamin D Supplementation, Sunlight Exposure, and Parkinson’s disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Med Sci Monit. 2019 Jan 23;25:666-674.
Recent research enlightened me to a paradox in cholesterol research. It appears that vitamin D supplementation actually raises total cholesterol (TC) levels and “bad cholesterol” levels (LDL). Supplementation is also associated with a small rise in “good cholesterol” levels (HDL). The paradox lies in the fact that sunlight exposure is associated with a decrease in total cholesterol levels and LDL, while also producing a small rise in HDL. In both cases, vitamin D levels are raised significantly.
The research, from India, was born of a concern that although India has abundant sunshine, vitamin D deficiency is common, because so many do not take advantage of sunlight exposure. The researchers decided to determine whether it was better to use sunlight exposure to increase vitamin D levels, or to instead use vitamin D supplementation. To do this, they formed three groups: a control group that had “normal” levels above 50 nmoL (20 ng/ml), and two vitamin D-deficient group with levels below 50 nmoL. One of the vitamin D-deficient groups increased their usual sunlight exposure by at least 20 minutes to their face and arms between 11 AM and 3 PM daily. The other deficient group received oral supplements of 1,000 IU of vitamin D (cholecalciferol), but did not increase sunlight exposure. The researchers also measured cholesterol levels. The study lasted for 6 months and the results were as described above: A decrease in TC level and LDL levels in the sunlight exposure group, an increase in TC and LDL in the supplementation group, and an increase in HDL in both groups.
It would have been interesting if the subjects in the sunlight-exposure group had experienced full-body exposure for 20 minutes, which can produce up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D; a few minutes on the face and arms is not sufficient to optimize vitamin D levels. Equally, the use of 1,000 IU daily of vitamin D is miniscule. I would have suggested at least 4,000 IU daily. Altering upward the dosages of both sunlight and vitamin D could have shown larger differences. More research needs to be done to determine whether or not these results can be replicated.
The indications of this study is that vitamin D supplementation may be harmful because it raises serum lipids in an adverse manner. There is also an indication that sunlight exposure improves lipid profiles while still raising vitamin D levels.
By what mechanism would sun exposure lower cholesterol levels? A type of cholesterol precursor called 7-DHC is stored in the skin. It is also used to produce vitamin D when under the influence of sunlight. Regular sunlight exposure would reduce this cholesterol store and thereby reduce cholesterol levels.
As to why vitamin D supplementation might increase cholesterol levels, it could be due to the fact that it is usually made by radiating lanolin from sheep. Animal products are known to raise cholesterol levels.
Whatever the reasons for the ability of sunlight to lower cholesterol levels, this study is one more indication that sunlight is a friend to nearly every system of the body. Be sure to obtain plenty of non-burning sunlight. Your heart and brain will thank you for it!