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sensitive to sun

 
gardener
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I've been having a really hard time coping with being out in the sun for some reason. As someone who loves being outside and has a lot of plants to care for, this is a major downer and hindrance, to say the least. This has been going on for years, but seems particularly bad this year. For ages, I thought it was intolerance to heat, but it seems more and more like it is particular to sun exposure (thought heat does make it worse still). Sometimes even a few minutes in bright sun makes my head start hurting the way I'd expect it to if I had heat exhaustion. Then I tend to feel weak, tired and barely functional the rest of the day.

I don't know what is causing this. I have had heat exhaustion numerous times in the past due to working a job where I often couldn't get out of the sun, hydrate and/or rest when needed. I once had sun poisoning as well. I wonder if that could play into making me more sensitive? Sort of a super early warning system/shut down response to protect me from serious sun injury? It also seems like my body has a hard time holding onto water, regardless how much I drink. It just goes right through. I'm sure that can't be helping, but haven't been able to figure out what's behind that either. Neither of these things were on my mind last time I went to the doctor, unfortunately. All my blood tests were pretty normal, other than slightly low vitamin D, so I've been taking a supplement. Long ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and I have CPTSD, so there are certainly nervous system regulation issues. A friend suggested that it could be a histamine response. I haven't been able to find much trying to read about this problem, since most of what comes up is about skin problems due to sun, which isn't my issue. While I would like to understand why this is happening, I mostly just want to figure out what might help. I've done all the obvious things, like wearing a wide hat, long sleeves, staying in shade and working at cooler, less sunny times of day. But it's quite limiting and I have tons I need to do. I'm not trying to stay in the sun all day or do intense physical work in full sun. I just want to be able to do things like make it through a walk around my garden or visit my chickens without feeling so cooked that I'm unable to function the rest of the day.

Has anyone else dealt with similar issues and have insights to share? Suggestions about getting water to stay in my body? Resources that might help shed some light? I do plan to talk to my DO, but won't be able to see them for awhile. Plus I'm a little worried about being ignored or them at least not knowing any better than I do what's going on and still having to figure it out myself.



 
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That's a pretty good description of where I am at with sunlight at this point, though I can usually get 3 hours worth throughout the day before I have major issues.  Lupus is prevalent in my family and I get that distinctive rash so that was what I was guessing. And yes, this is much worse this year.

As far as keeping water in your system, are you getting enough electrolytes?  Not just sodium.  I put a dash of light salt and a couple of good sized glugs from a bottle of magnesium citrate into 2 quarts of water and keep that in the fridge as an electrolyte drink.  That covers potassium, magnesium and sodium without extra sugars.  

Jocelyn has a great drink made with honey and apple cider vinegar that tastes like apple juice and lemonade mixed together.   If you're not low carb it's probably even better.  
 
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Is the water problem constant or does vary? I have noticed at certain points in my menstrual cycle I have days where I am dehydrated and headachey no matter how much water I drink, and I am thirsty all the time. I am not sure if it is due to fluctuations in hormones or iron level, have seen both theories.
 
Casie Becker
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https://permies.com/t/57424/kitchen/Switchel-natural-version-sports-drink

Here's a link to her recipe.  The kids still ask for it every now and then.
 
Heather Sharpe
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Casie, sorry to hear you're experiencing this too. It's really rough. Can't even imagine dealing with this and Lupus. That was the first suspicion I had before I got the fibromyalgia diagnosis. I often can get longer spells in the sun than just a few minutes, as long as the time is split up by breaks in shade. If it's partly cloudy, I'm fine. It's just been super bad recently. I'd guess the back and forth weather here doesn't help. Wonder if there's other reasons we're both having a worse time of it this year?

I pretty much always crave salt and magnesium, so perhaps I am still short on electrolytes, even though I feel like I consume lots of both. I will try upping that and see if it makes a difference.

Mk Neal wrote:Is the water problem constant or does vary? I have noticed at certain points in my menstrual cycle I have days where I am dehydrated and headachey no matter how much water I drink, and I am thirsty all the time. I am not sure if it is due to fluctuations in hormones or iron level, have seen both theories.

I feel like the water problem is fairly constant. Definitely worse at certain points in the cycle. I know the unquenchable thirst and headaches you speak of. It's no fun. Sorry you get that too. That's probably the time I reach for the magnesium citrate the most. So good for headaches! And cramps.  
Thank you for mentioning this, seems a good thing to watch and note. I've been trying to observe and record patterns with this, but sometimes it's too much.

 
Mk Neal
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Thanks for the magnesium citrate tip. I hope you can figure out something to help with your sun problem.
 
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I have fibro & lupus. Sometimes the sun is harsher than other times. Much depends on my physical condition, in the specific moment. But, another thing to consider is the effects of solar flares and other activity. Many neurological problems can be exacerbated by solar activity. Our resident expert on that would likely be Pearl... ~sends out the bat signal~
 
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Heather, have you considered that some of the foods you eat could be causing sun sensitivity?

A lady I met years ago during a class that I took, had this problem.  She said her doctor had given her a list of foods not to eat.

I ask Mr. Google who said these foods and more:

Foods: Consuming celery, dill, fennel, figs, lime, parsley and wild carrots can increase sun sensitivity. Perfumes and essential oils: Applying scents like bergamot, bitter orange, lavender, lemon verbena, musk, rosemary or sandalwood can make your skin more reactive to the sun



Also, she always wore white, sunglasses and a big brimmed hat.
 
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Hi Heather,

Came upon your post.

I'm assuming that you might be on SSRIs to help cope with your CPTSD?

If that's the case, they will make you hypersensitive to the sun, to the point of feeling weak and irritable.

As mentioned by other Permies, if you add grapefruit or most citrus on top of that, you're compounding the effect.

I would double-check if any of your skin care products contain any of the ingredients mentioned.

Hope it helps!

-Mat
 
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I'm not at all sensitive to sun, but when I lived in a drier climate I had a hard time staying hydrated when I was working outside all day. When my cucumber plants started going nuts, I started eating a big bowl of cucumber for breakfast every day...and all of a sudden I wasn't so underhydrated. So I kept doing it, and it made a huge difference. Later on, I read about gel water, so I don't think I was imagining it😁
https://blog.publicgoods.com/gel-water-hydration-what-it-is-and-how-it-will-help-you/
 
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I have a similar problem. I feel weak, lightheaded, fatigued, nauseous, and anxious when in the sun and heat for long (or just a few minutes, depending on how hot and humid it is), and then it takes me awhile to recover once I'm indoors. I also feel easily dehydrated.

I had heat exhaustion a few times years ago, and since then it seems like my brain is hyper aware of the potential for it, so it sends out warning signals much earlier than necessary. My husband doesn't think that's it since he's had heat exhaustion, too, and doesn't have the same problem, but our brains obviously work differently. I experience anxiety and panic attacks, and he doesn't. I'm curious if hypnosis, EMDR, or other therapy might help me with the sun exposure, or if it's purely physiological.

A cooling vest was recommended to me, but I haven't gotten one yet. I think it has places to put ice packs or something.

I second the recommendation for cucumbers. When I made refrigerator pickles and munched a few each day, it seemed to help. Maybe the combo of watery cucumbers, coolness, and salt.
 
Heather Sharpe
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Anne Miller wrote:Heather, have you considered that some of the foods you eat could be causing sun sensitivity?

This is a great point, Anne. I don't eat many of the listed foods. I've always disliked carrot family plants, with the exception of cilantro and now fennel. I do eat lemons and limes, but not often. I will have to pay attention and see if there is a correspondence between when I do eat those and when the sun bothers me more.

Mat Beaulieu wrote:Hi Heather,

Came upon your post.

I'm assuming that you might be on SSRIs to help cope with your CPTSD?

If that's the case, they will make you hypersensitive to the sun, to the point of feeling weak and irritable.

As mentioned by other Permies, if you add grapefruit or most citrus on top of that, you're compounding the effect.

I would double-check if any of your skin care products contain any of the ingredients mentioned.

Hi Mat! No, I don't take an SSRI. I have been taking an oral lavender oil supplement that apparently behaves much like an SSRI for it though. I had this problem before starting it. Still, an interesting point to consider, thank you! My partner takes an SSRI and has only had something similar happen a few times. Of course, I'm sure these things affect different people in different ways.

My only skin care products are salves I make from olive oil and a few herbs. I'll double check those too.

Nikki Roche wrote:I have a similar problem. I feel weak, lightheaded, fatigued, nauseous, and anxious when in the sun and heat for long (or just a few minutes, depending on how hot and humid it is), and then it takes me awhile to recover once I'm indoors. I also feel easily dehydrated.

I had heat exhaustion a few times years ago, and since then it seems like my brain is hyper aware of the potential for it, so it sends out warning signals much earlier than necessary. My husband doesn't think that's it since he's had heat exhaustion, too, and doesn't have the same problem, but our brains obviously work differently. I experience anxiety and panic attacks, and he doesn't. I'm curious if hypnosis, EMDR, or other therapy might help me with the sun exposure, or if it's purely physiological.

A cooling vest was recommended to me, but I haven't gotten one yet. I think it has places to put ice packs or something.

I second the recommendation for cucumbers. When I made refrigerator pickles and munched a few each day, it seemed to help. Maybe the combo of watery cucumbers, coolness, and salt.

Nikki, sorry to hear you have to deal with this too. It sucks. I really think you're on to something with the heat exhaustion and early warning system, since I've had basically the same experience. Especially since you mention feeling anxiety, that really makes me think it's your nervous system being triggered and reacting to protect you from what it perceives to be danger due to past trauma (the heat exhaustion). It's true, everyone's nervous system is different. So it makes sense to me that you could have problems where he wouldn't. I think some kind of therapy of that sort could help. I'm probably going to ask my therapist, who practices somatic experiencing about it further. That might be another good type to explore. It's been super helpful for me in dealing with anxiety and the CPTSD. I'll report back if I work on this with my therapist and see improvement. Hope you find some solutions that work for you, Nikki!

I definitely think you and Jan are right about cucumbers. I'm eagerly waiting for the flowers on my lemon cucumbers to turn into fruits so I can eat them all the time. That has always helped. Maybe I need to cave and buy some until mine are ready. I used to make myself a hydration drink by blending watermelon and either mint or basil. I also put lime juice, but maybe that isn't a good idea, in light of the potential to make things worse. Maybe a batch of that is in order too.

I did figure out that another contributing factor may be that I was taking quite a hefty dose of vitamin D, at the direction of my DO. I had had the feeling that in summer, it might not be so necessary. I'm quite fair skinned, so my body makes all I need fairly quickly. I quit taking the supplement and the problem has lessened, but not gone away entirely. I know that too much vitamin D can cause problems and I wonder if since I was taking the supplement and already had quite a bit (5000 IUs), my body was trying to keep me from getting an overdose by forcing me out of the sun? So hard to know.

Thanks y'all for the helpful ideas and things to ponder! Hope everyone is staying cool and hydrated!
 
Carla Burke
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Too much vitamin D for me, can be bad, too. I noticed it, this past winter, because we had both bumped up our D to about 3,000, for other reasons, and started getting sick. It took us a month or so to figure out that was the problem, but once we decreased it, we both started doing much better.

I think I'm going to make some cucumber-melon water, to take out with me, while I do my outside chores, today!
 
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I'm not sure if magnesium citrate will help...It is  typically used as a laxative (high octane laxative) prior to a colonoscopy...
 
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Heather, I feel for you! Being sensitive to the sun is no fun at all.

Loads of great suggestions and discussions in this thread and I have just some minor thoughts or tweaks to add.

Magnesium or other minerals / electrolytes - your body could be dumping it out due to "dirty genes." The book by the same name, Dirty Genes by Ben Lynch is awesome at explaining the how's and why's and what to do to help.

Food sensitivities - as a kid I would get a rash from the sun. And while I know your reaction is different, I eventually somehow figured out my reaction was worse if I ate citrus. It was a painful, red, burning/itchy rash. To this day I still do not like citrus fruit much, but I did grow out of that reaction. What can really help to identify food reactions is to do an elimination challenge. I think I wrote about steps to do that elsewhere in the forums, but it's can be super super helpful and only takes time (no expensive doctor visits or lab tests!).

Herbs / medications / supplements - lots of good thoughts on this already (who knew about Vitamin D?!). The most common one I've heard of being a problem is St. John's Wort which can make folks, especially the fair skinned ones, sensitive to the sun. I wonder how many other herbs that we consider "mild" or completely safe might cause us issues. For me, even slightly estrogenic herbs like lavender and red clover would increase my hot flashes when I was peri-menopausal, so it's always a good idea to do elimination challenges with some things we might not usually consider.

 
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Human Physiological Parameters Related to Solar and Geomagnetic Disturbances: Data from Different Geographic Regions

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356807389_Human_Physiological_Parameters_Related_to_Solar_and_Geomagnetic_Disturbances_Data_from_Different_Geographic_Regions CN
 
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My aha moment regarding similar issues came when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (at age 53).
 
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It sounds like you're doing most of it. But if your body is telling you to beware the strong sun, slow down a bit and move what you can to mornings or evenings. If you aren't already, consider sunblock or a sun umbrella. Watch out for reflected sun - sitting next to the side of a white building or a concrete patio can expose you to a lot more than you might expect.

I've got the "it might be lupus." It took me a couple years to realize my flare-ups were tied to UV exposure.
 
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This is likely multifactorial, but one piece may be the balance of fats in your diet.

Most American/western diets are high in seed oils -- AKA "vegetable oils", though they mostly do not come from vegetables. This is essentially any fat that is liquid at room temperature, e.g. canola oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, etc. They are more properly called industrial seed oils.

These oils are mainly PUFA fats, which are fragile and easily oxidized. When we consume them, they assimilate into our own cells, where they are prone to oxidative damage. This includes skin cells, where sunlight breaks them down, causing us to sunburn easily.

It's hard to avoid seed oils completely, because they're in virtually all processed food and restaurant food. But it's easy to stop cooking with them, and switch to natural fats like coconut oil, butter, lard, or tallow, all of which are stable fats with minimal PUFA content.

It takes time for the fats in your cells to turn over, but people who cut out seed oils frequently report that they no longer sunburn easily, if at all.
 
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Reading your post made me immediately think of a friend I once had who could work outside in the most glaring sunny conditions and was never burned  or adversely effected.
When I asked her about it she said something along the lines of she worked with the light and sun elementals who formed a protective sheath around her.
This might sound crazy, but if things are not working out on a physical level, then perhaps try approaching the issue spiritually, (while also taking all physical precautions).
There are people who feel strongly that their work is upheld by unseen spiritual beings. Are you being invited to explore in this direction?
A blessing on your journey.  Our handicaps can be our greatest blessings in this journey of growth.
 
Casie Becker
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I can understand your worry about the magnesium citrate, I actually buy mine from the laxative area of the pharmacy. It's so dilute in this recipe that I have never noticed any side effects.  Taken as a laxative you are taking a much higher dose in a much shorter time frame.

Anecdotally I have heard it suggested that the bigger concern would be the potassium in the light salt.  You can easily meet your full daily requirements with this.  But this is also highly dilute.

The saying "the poison is in the dose" very much applies here.  
 
Carla Burke
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A good laxative-effect-free means of getting your magnesium is via topical spray, because it doesn't have to be digested, and it's simply absorbed through the skin. You can buy it pre-made, or make your own. A night time dosing - spray on, then rub in - will usually have the added benefits of relaxing/ soothing achy muscles and improving your sleep.
 
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I have for many years had a sensitivity to the sun. As much as I like it, I burn VERY quickly and easily. So I'm conscientious about what times of the day I go out, avoiding the midday when the sun is strongest. However, having said that, I have noticed this year that I'm even more sensitive than usual and I think it could be solar flares. A few years ago I was out with family and it was an overcast day, we walked from car down the street to some shops so we weren't actually out that long. Later that night my face blistered up horrible like I'd been in the sun for hours. It was my husband that saw in the news that that morning there were solar flares around the time we were out and that many people suffered sunburns.  

If you dig into Google and Youtube on solar flare activity this year and some of the coinciding atmospheric things we are currently experiencing you'll see some interesting stuff about more of the sun's rays getting through the stratosphere. I could be wrong but I'm leaning towards this being the reason I'm even more sensitive this year than in past years.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2022/08/02/the-sun-is-now-more-active-than-nasa-predicted-it-could-be-in-its-strongest-cycle-since-records-began/?sh=1bb5e712cd59
We are in the middle of a magnetic pole shift and as the shift progresses the magnetic field that protects us becomes weaker. Add solar flares into the mix and I think this could be the reason for being more sun sensitive. But I'm not a scientist so maybe I'm all wrong. I just know what I have experienced myself and since my diet hasn't changed, and I'm not taking any medications that can cause photosensitivity I'm inclined to go with this theory.
 
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For me personally, I have similar issues being dehydrated quickly in open sun.  My mother pointed out to me that she had "hyperhidrosis", or excessive sweating and that opened my eyes in a lot of ways.  For the two of us, it shows up as cold and clammy hands and feet to show poor circulation and my sweating is mostly hands, feet, and armpits with limited sweating in other areas.  When I'm out in the open sun for too long with no cloud cover, my body sweats out as much water as it can, leaving me excessively dehydrated.

For a remedy, I always search for "herbal legacy" and Dr. Christopher and here is the article for circulation issues below.  Cayenne pepper is supposed to be one of the keys for a long life and great for circulation.  Malfunction of the sweat glands (if that's what you might have) is also related somehow to nervous system issues I believe and there is a set of herbs related to helping with the nervous system as well.  

https://www.herballegacy.com/Blood_Circulation.html
https://www.herballegacy.com/Nerves.html

Hopefully this helps someone who may not have heard about hyperhidrosis - I still have the poor circulation, but do make a lot of compromises in what I eat for balancing the crazy busy work weeks, cost of foods, etc. so there are still toxins from the food system that accumulate and a good detox program could also help clear out toxins affecting the nerves.  I am a fan of the green smoothie diet by JJ Smith, I noticed general improvements with my whole body after following that plan several years ago and just made a note to go back and do another round in the next week or two once we gather all the ingredients again.
 
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Sunlight exposure is quite powerful and has plenty of benefits for us. My understanding is that it is very important to acclimate the body to being in the sun. I'm not sure what part of the world you are in, but if it is a place with a cold winter you can help your body by allowing yourself to be in the sun as soon as it warm enough for you to sunbathe. Get plenty of exposure before the sun becomes strong. You can start now in the summer by being in the sun in the morning or as it sets. You have to build a tolerance. In my experience this works, letting myself get tan and familiar with the sun before the hot summer hits greatly increased my comfort and tolerance for the intense summer season here in the mediterranean.
 
Heather Sharpe
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Wow, thank you everyone for all the perspective and things to explore around this! Sorry I haven't been more engaged with this conversation. I've been struggling quite a bit with my health and don't have much spare energy.

Carla Burke wrote:Too much vitamin D for me, can be bad, too. I noticed it, this past winter, because we had both bumped up our D to about 3,000, for other reasons, and started getting sick. It took us a month or so to figure out that was the problem, but once we decreased it, we both started doing much better.

I think I'm going to make some cucumber-melon water, to take out with me, while I do my outside chores, today!


So glad y'all figured it out and got feeling better! If you don't mind sharing, what sort of symptoms were you having from it?

I noticed something really interesting and puzzling recently. I've been visiting my friend's farm to pick up goat milk and give massage therapy to the injured baby cow she rescued. The calf decided that she wanted to be out in the field eating while I was working on her, so I was out in the sun for quite awhile, probably an hour. I did take occasional breaks in the shade to drink water. At no point did I feel melted and head hurty like I usually do in sun. I've gone several times and been able to be out in the sun far longer than usual when I am there. I find this very curious and wonder what makes the difference. At first I thought maybe I was distracted because I was focused on her, but the reality is that when I get affected by the sun, it's not something I can ignore at all. My body forces me to stop when it hits. That baby cow therapy seems to help really makes me think this is at least in part, an issue of nervous system disregulation and my body perceiving sun as a threat due to past sun injury. Perhaps spending so much time around an animal whose nervous system is regulated and who can handle sun helps my nervous system. And/or because I find her presence to be very relaxing and therapeutic to me, my nervous system is just calmer and doesn't go into fight or flight in response to the sun. I'm not sure, but it's super interesting to me. Doubly so since my DO suggested bovine adrenal complex for me. I chose not to, because I'm sure it must come from CAFO cows and I can't support that. I can't imagine they would have healthy adrenal systems anyways. Maybe I'm getting the more healthy energetic version from hanging out with the calf. I do wish I could figure out how to get the benefit to extend to other times.

Another piece of the puzzle...my therapist recently suggested the virtual certainty that I have some level of HPA axis dysfunction (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis). This likely explains the issues I'm having regulating the balance of water in my body as well as general nervous system regulation problems. It's probably behind most of my health problems, like constant fatigue, muscle and joint pain, sleep problems, etc.
 
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Many years ago I learned in an advanced first aid course that heat exhaustion (pale skin, sweating, dizzy) or heat stroke (hot, dry skin, increased body temperature) can result in permanent heat sensitivity. After one of these events, especially heat stroke, the hypothalmus can be permanently affected, and the hypothalmus is what helps regulate body temperature by telling your skin to sweat. The hypothalmus also regulates body fluids.

Heat intolerance can also be due to some medications, hyperthyroidism, or multiple sclerosis.

Heat intolerance can make you susceptible to heat stroke which can be fatal if not treated very quickly. It's important to take care of yourself if you're out in the sun or in a hot environment. I have some heat intolerance due to a job-related heat exhaustion episode and it's really easy to push too much when I'm outside and want to finish a project. I've found that wearing a wide brim hat with a neck covering has helped a lot. A light cotton long sleeve shirt also helps. I drink about a gallon of water on hot days and it's not too much.

I recently had a weird reaction to the heat where my face and neck became really tight and itchy for no apparent reason other than the heat. It was bad. A combination of lotion containing frankincense, myrrh, and german chamomile along with a neem salve has resolved the issue. These are all herbs that cool inflammation and keep the blood moving.
 
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Heather Sharpe wrote:Wow, thank you everyone for all the perspective and things to explore around this! Sorry I haven't been more engaged with this conversation. I've been struggling quite a bit with my health and don't have much spare energy.

Carla Burke wrote:Too much vitamin D for me, can be bad, too. I noticed it, this past winter, because we had both bumped up our D to about 3,000, for other reasons, and started getting sick. It took us a month or so to figure out that was the problem, but once we decreased it, we both started doing much better.

I think I'm going to make some cucumber-melon water, to take out with me, while I do my outside chores, today!


So glad y'all figured it out and got feeling better! If you don't mind sharing, what sort of symptoms were you having from it?



I've slept since then, but to the best of my and John's memories, it was much the same as being out in the sun, too long, minus the heat. So, headache, grumpy, disoriented, weak, tired(*almost* to the point of lethargy), nauseated, bull-headed...
 
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K Kaba wrote:

It took me a couple years to realize my flare-ups were tied to UV exposure


Like K Kaba, I am paying attention to UV extremes. Wearing sun protective clothing and working outdoors at safer times during the morning and evening is a daily practice for me. This UV index by region using NOAA.gov data is helpful in quickly getting an idea of the best times to be outside and when to do indoor chores. For all of us who would rather be outside, protecting ourselves from extreme sun exposure will allow us to keep doing what we love.
Thank you Heather Sharpe and all contributors for reinforcing this really important topic of sun sensitivity, sun safety and how to protect ourselves. I wish I had learned this stuff earlier in my permaculture journey.
 
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