Monday, July 14, 2008

Why Sunshine is On the Spartan Diet

The primary definition of "diet," according to one online dictionary, is "The usual food and drink of a person or animal" and the secondary definition: "A regulated selection of foods, as for medical reasons or cosmetic weight loss." However, the third and final definition isn't restricted to food: "Something used, enjoyed, or provided regularly."

That's why it makes sense that sunshine is a required part of the Spartan Diet.

Diets are normally restricted to food. However, many health foods require sunshine in order to be fully activated. So from a health perspective, you can't separate some food from the sunshine necessary to complete them.

Studies showing links between the Mediterranean diet and health and longevity tend to assume that food and exercise are the only factors. In fact, Mediterranean peoples get more sunshine, too, which turns out to also boost health.

Now researcher is proving all this. A new study at Aberdeen University in Scotland found a link between inadequate sunshine and obesity. Researchers there discovered that a vitamin D deficiency causes a hormone called Leptin to malfunction, preventing the brain from telling the stomach when fullness happens, and when to stop eating. Worse, they found, that fat absorbs vitamin D and the more fat someone has in their body, the less of the vitamin D in the body is available.

In other words, vitamin D deficiency promotes obesity, and obesity promotes vitamin D deficiency.

Yet another international study lead by a scientist at the Medical University of Graz in Austria found that vitamin D deficiency is also linked to heart disease and other causes of early death.

Yet another study published back in 2005 found that vitamin D defficiency contributes to osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease.

Of course, in our hyper-reductionist medical culture, once a specific element is found that benefits health, everybody wants to isolate that newly discovered component and put it into a pill. But the best way -- by far -- to get vitamin D is to expose your skin to sunshine. That gives you the health benefits of sunshine that science has already discovered, plus those that will be discovered in the years and decades to come.

In ancient Greece, Spartans very likely got more sunshine than any other Greeks. The reason for that is threefold. First, Spartan men were all professional soldiers, who trained outside all day, every day. Second, unlike other Greek women, who were mostly required to stay indoors all day (Athenian women weren't even supposed to appear in the doorway), Spartan women were encouraged and even required to be outside for much of the day to train in sports, dancing and horse breeding and training. Finally, boys entered the agoge at 7, and girls entered a state-run school for girls, and much of this education took place outdoors.

There are three reasons why Spartans probably had very low incidents of skin cancer, despite all this sun exposure: 1) they were healthy overall; 2) their diet was radically anti-cancer (science is now proving this); and 3) their skin was adapted for their climate.

Modern people get skin cancer for a variety of reasons not present in the ancient Greek world, including air pollution, unhealthy diets and the fact that people are living in climates other than what their skin was "designed" for.

So, for example light-skinned and dark-skinned people live everywhere now. So an unhealthy light-skinned person (by definition adapted to Northern climates) is more likely to get skin cancer in the tropics. A dark-skinned person in very Northern countries is more likely to get rickets, a disease caused by inadequate sun exposure.

1. Get plenty of exercise outside in the sunshine.

2. Favor the first four or the last four hours of the day for sun exposure, where sunlight has to travel through more of the Earth's atmosphere, which protects you better from any possible harmful effects of the sun.

3. Tailer sun exposure to your skin. If you're pale and freckle easily, you get more vitamin D from less sunshine, so avoid being in the sun all day. If you're more olive skinned or dark skinned, and live in cloudy climates, you probably need to spend a lot more time in the sun to get enough. Also: The amount of clothing you wear can also help you control the amount of sun your skin is exposed to.

4. Consult your doctor about how much sun you can tolerate without risk, and visit your dermatologist regularly to check for sun damage.

5. Stay on the Spartan Diet -- your risk of skin cancer may be reduced significantly with a health Spartan Diet .