The Sun-Gut Connection: Why Sun Safety Matters for IBS and GERD
Article

The Sun-Gut Connection: Why Sun Safety Matters for IBS and GERD

Published on Wednesday, July 10, 2024
by
Piedad Cardona

Acid Reflux
GERD
IBS
Wellness

How Sunlight Affects Your Skin and Gut Health: Tips for Managing IBS & GERD in Summer

Sunlight exposure has a significant impact on our health and overall well-being. Moderate sunlight exposure is beneficial, but prolonged exposure may have various indirect effects on our skin and gut health. If you experience worsened symptoms of IBS and GERD during the summer and have been unsure why, this article will discuss several factors that may be the causes of your discomfort. Understanding why this happens and how to manage it can empower you to take control of your health and enjoy this wonderful season more.

Understanding the Impact of Sunlight on Skin and Gut Health

Sunshine exposure is fundamental for our well-being. Vitamin D, which is produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight, plays a crucial role in modulating the immune system to maintain a healthy gut. It helps keep the integrity of the gut lining, preventing conditions like leaky gut. Additionally, vitamin D may influence gut microbiota composition, which is crucial for digestion and overall gut health. The downside of prolonged sun exposure includes sunburn, heat-related illness, and an increased risk of skin cancer due to accumulated sun exposure.

Although there is no direct evidence that sunlight triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), indirect factors related to sun exposure might play a role in the symptoms of these conditions. Digestive processes are directly related to several body conditions, such as the circadian rhythm, sun exposure, body temperature, hydration, dietary habits, and stress. All of these factors are modified during summer. 

The Role of Circadian Rhythm in Digestive Health

The body's circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is influenced by sunlight. During summer, more exposure to sunshine and traveling to other latitudes may affect the circadian rhythm. A well-regulated circadian rhythm impacts gut health in multiple ways:

  1. Digestive Function: The circadian rhythm affects digestive processes, including the timing of bowel movements and the production of digestive enzymes. Disruptions in this rhythm can lead to digestive issues such as constipation or irregular bowel movements.
  1. Microbial Activity: The gut microbiota also follows a circadian rhythm, with certain microbial activities peaking at specific times of the day. Proper sunlight exposure helps maintain this natural cycle, promoting a healthy gut environment.

Dietary Changes and Their Effect on IBS and GERD

During the summer, with more daylight, people often change their eating habits and eat later, which can be challenging for individuals with GI conditions like IBS and GERD who need to eat on time and several hours before bedtime. Also, they are more likely to eat out more frequently and participate in activities such as barbecues and picnics, where they may consume more fatty foods, spicy foods, and drink more alcohol, cold, or carbonated beverages. All of these can worsen symptoms of IBS and GERD.

Dehydration: A Summer Hazard for Gut Health

Dehydration is common during summer due to increased outdoor activities and exposure to high temperatures. This can raise the body's temperature, increase sweating, and lead to dehydration, which may exacerbate symptoms of both IBS and GERD. Dehydration can cause constipation in IBS patients, leading to increased abdominal discomfort. In GERD patients, dehydration might result in thicker stomach contents, potentially worsening acid reflux.

Mental Health, Stress, and Sunlight Exposure

Sunlight exposure can help alleviate some IBS symptoms by improving mood and reducing stress. It increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness. Unfortunately, not everybody feels comfortable with the high temperatures associated with sun exposure during the summer months, which generates stress. The body temperature increases, and some people might find that their digestive symptoms worsen when they are overheated.

Soak Up the Sun Safely: Sun Protection Tips for IBS & GERD

If you find that your symptoms worsen with sun exposure, taking preventive measures to enjoy the summer without GI discomfort caused by IBS and GERD is crucial. By following safe sun exposure guidelines, you can feel reassured about your ability to enjoy the summer without exacerbating your symptoms.

Sun Exposure Guidelines

Finding the right balance to maximize sun exposure while minimizing risks is essential. Here are some guidelines for safe sun exposure:

Best Time for Sun Exposure: The safest times to get sun exposure are before 10 AM and after 4 PM. During these periods, the sun's rays are less intense, reducing the risk of sunburn and skin damage.

Duration: Avoid prolonged exposure; aim for 10-30 minutes of sun exposure, which is safe.

Factors to Consider for Safe Sun Exposure

Skin Type: Fair Skin: More prone to sunburn, so shorter exposure times are recommended. Darker Skin: Higher melanin content offers more protection.

Geographical Location: UV rays are more robust closer to the Equator and weaker further from it.

Weather Conditions and Seasons: UV rays can penetrate through clouds, but their intensity is reduced. UV radiation is stronger in the summer.

Photosensitivity: Some people are more likely to react badly to sun exposure than others. Several factors, including some medications, may cause these reactions. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on sun safety, especially regarding medication interactions.

Tips for Safe Sun Exposure:

  1. Use Sunscreen: If you'll be outside for a long time, even during safer sun hours, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+. Reapply every two hours or more often if you're swimming or sweating.
  2. Dress Appropriately. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and breathable fabrics for long sleeves and pants for additional protection without overheating. Use hats and sunglasses.
  3. Stay Hydrated. Drink plenty of water, especially in hot weather.- Eat hydrating foods like fruits, vegetables, soups, and broths. Avoid dehydrating substances like caffeine, alcohol, and sugary and salty foods. Consider using electrolyte solutions or sports drinks. Pay attention to your body's signals for thirst.
  4. Seek Shade. Take breaks from direct sunlight, especially during peak hours.
  5. Monitor Your Skin. Regularly check your skin for any new or unusual moles or spots, and consult a healthcare provider if you notice anything suspicious. Skin cancer develops over time due to accumulated damage from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation. For more information, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

10 Tips to Prevent Summer Stress and Improve Gut Health

Managing stress during high temperatures can be challenging. Here are some strategies to help you stay cool and reduce stress, which can help prevent worsened symptoms of IBS and GERD: 

  1. Stay Cool Indoors. Use air conditioning, take cool showers or baths, and keep blinds or curtains closed 
  2. Stay Hydrated. Drink water, infused water, or iced tea, and limit caffeine and alcohol
  3. Dress Appropriately. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and use hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen 
  4. Modify Your Schedule. Plan outdoor activities for early morning or late evening and adjust the work schedule if possible 
  5. Stay Calm and Relaxed.- Practice stress-reducing techniques and spend time in cool, quiet places
  6. Engage in Enjoyable Indoor Activities. Read, craft, play board games, watch movies, and opt for indoor exercise options 
  7. Healthy Diet. Eat light, refreshing meals and eat smaller, more frequent meals
  8. Social Connections. Maintain social interactions and participate in cool indoor activities 
  9. Plan for Vacations. Plan getaways to cooler destinations 
  10. Mindset and Attitude. Focus on the positive aspects of summer and gradually acclimate your body to higher temperatures.

By implementing these strategies, you can better manage stress and stay cool during the summer, making the season more enjoyable and less stressful.

Although sunlight itself does not directly trigger IBS or GERD, associated factors such as dehydration, stress, dietary habits, and body temperature changes can influence the symptoms of these conditions. Notice that your symptoms worsen with sun exposure. Preventive measures such as staying hydrated, managing stress, maintaining healthy dietary habits, and avoiding known triggers may be helpful.


  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. (2020, September 11). Dehydration. familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/dehydration 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Sun Exposure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/sun-exposure 
  3. Skin cancer. American Academy of Dermatology. (2022, April 22). https://www.aad.org/media/stats-skin-cancer 
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). Circadian rhythms. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx 

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