by Nils Osmar. April 1, 2022 – Medical Disclaimer
I should say first that this article’s a little speculative. It’s my attempt at sorting through information from a number of different sources and studies, then thinking about how it might (maybe) apply to the anti-aging community.
Laying it on the line: I love the sun. I try to spend around 30 minutes soaking up the sunshine on my back deck (when it’s not clouded over, which it often is here in Seattle).
But I do so knowing that the sun can actually be problematic in terms of aging and longevity.
On the one hand, there’s some evidence that people who get a lot of sun actually live longer than those who don’t. A twenty year study in Sweden revealed that women who get out in the sun a lot are healthier and live between 7 months and 24 months longer than those who don’t get outdoors and get sun exposure. It seems likely that the same thing is true of men.
But sun exposure is also associated with problems such as skin cancer and –– perhaps even more importantly from an anti-aging perspective –– NAD depletion. Put simply, sunlight is a stressor. Some of the wavelengths in it ––– the UV rays in particular ––– can cause severe damage to our DNA. The more of it we’re exposed to, the more NAD is removed from our bodies.
One solution is to get our sun exposure in the morning, when UV rays are less intense. But this isn’t always possible. Are there things we can do to protect ourselves, protect our NAD from depletion, and still benefit from sun exposure?
NAD and Astaxanthin
Here’s where it gets a little speculative, and, as the saying goes, “more research is needed.”
There is strong evidence that taking vitamin B3 (niacin, niacinamide, NR or NMN) can protect against UV damage, and that NAD (which is created from all forms of B3) does its best to repair it.
The reason NAD gets depleted when we’re exposed to UV radiation is apparently because the body is prioritizing repairing the DNA damage. When we’re exposed to UV radiation from the sun or other sources, the body uses what it has on hand to protect itself, and doesn’t worry about the fact that it’s using up our supplies of NAD.
This is great. We have a built-in damage-repair mechanism. But the result could be critically low levels of NAD, particularly for older people who have low levels to begin with.
Sunscreens claim to block harmful radiations, but many commercial sunscreens have come under criticism for being possibly ineffective, or even, according to this FDA report, being toxic to the body. I feel sick when I use them, so stopped years ago.
My personal solution is to take astaxanthin (about 20 milligrams a day). There is strong evidence that astaxanthin protects against sun damage. I personally consider astaxanthin to be an essential supplement. I take it daily, whether I’ll be going out into the sun or not.
Is it a complete solution? Is it protecting against eventual skin cancer, as well as sunburn? I don’t know. I do know that I used to burn easily; I had many painful sunburns when I would go hiking when I was a young adult. Since adding astaxanthin to my supplement routine, I can spend an hour or two in the hot sun wearing nothing but sandals and exercise shorts, and I won’t burn. My skin does get a little pink, but that’s it.
Is the pink dangerous? Does it indicate sun damage? Am I setting myself up for cancer down the road? Again, I don’t really know. The pink color is always gone by the next morning. I suspect that astaxanthin is protecting me just like it protects the algae it’s harvested from, from sun damage ––– that taking it may be a way of getting all of the benefits of the sun without the harm (and protecting my NAD reserves, because the astaxanthin is preventing the DNA damage). But again, this is speculative. There’s no way of being a hundred percent sure that I’m correct.
To be on the safe side, I also take some extra NMN, resveratrol, apigenin from parsley, rutin, niacin, and/or other NAD boosters when going out into the sun, particularly if it’s in the afternoon when the UV radiation is highest.
P.S. There are good brands of astaxanthin and bad ones. Two brands that I’ve found that I feel confident are the real thing are Bioastin and Mercola. I’ve tried powdered astaxanthin formulas which did not provide any sun protection. So I’m only take the liquid capsules these days.