Pine Pollen Harvesting – Embracing the gifts of Spring

For a couple years now I have literally been ‘Pine-ing’ for pollen (I know, it’s so good right).

I followed the rabbit hole a few years back and deeply researched the golden pollen from pine trees and it’s incredible multi-nutrient properties as a food supplement but also it’s potent medicinal properties for hormonal balancing and it’s powerful detoxification potential.

I’ve harvested it in the past but keep missing the peak of the season. Not this year!

Why pine pollen?

It has a complex range of minerals, vitamins and trace minerals (over 200 bioactive ingredients). Some include: Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, Vit C, Vit E, Vit D, Beta Carotene, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Selenium!!!!

It is a complete protein (rare in the plant world).

It is a strong support for the body’s natural detoxification processes.

It is a live and vital food (unlike so many of our modern day versions of food). I literally feel more awake, alive and joyful from a dose. Think about the purpose of pollen and how prepped for creation it has to be (it is literally the beginning of the life of a tree). It is LOADED with grow factors for the tree, the surrounding ecology it lands on and us! #natureheals

It gives a total shot gun of antioxidants (including Glutathione the master antioxidant in the human body).

But perhaps it’s most interesting component is it’s androgenic properties. Meaning it contains and supports the balancing of testosterone (though it also supports rebalancing of estrogens and progesterone). Remember testosterone is needed in all versions (to various degrees) of masculine and feminine bodies (in women balanced testosterone gives you better organisms!).

It also contains other support hormones and hormone precursors such as DHEA (which has been called the anti-aging hormone).

This is a huge and powerful medicinal quality in a world ripe with hormonal dysregulation and imbalance. In fact it can be so powerful for increasing testosterone in men that in therapeutic qualities (such as a tincture) is not recommended for men under the age of 20 years!

The pollen is mildly sweet and so easy to add to foods, beverages or turn into a tincture.

Good news is it is easy to gather and Canberra has been bursting with pine trees plump for gathering.

This timely gift from nature is here to burst nutrients into our bodies, fill us with vitality and passion. All in time for the season of emerging, growing and dusting off the depths of winter.

Just dust the pollen from the catkins (male tree parts) into a paper bag to collect. Or just go lick a pine tree for fun.

Go rewild your taste buds!

Suns out, guns out (Part 1)

The ‘WHY’ and ‘WHAT’ of sun exposure and vibrant health

This time of year it is hard not to enjoy the extra light and warmth of the spring sun and given the general enthusiasm for the sun at this time of year I figure now is a good time to talk to the value of regular sun exposure for general health and vitality.

As a culture we are pretty comfortable that a bit of sunlight is a good thing but I’d like to take this further and say that the ‘little bit’ we are getting is usually not enough. That our increasingly indoor lives (dominated by artificial light) has contributed to a nationwide sunlight deficiency that is having serious health implications.

A culture of fear has built up around sun exposure and we are now avoiding, both deliberately but also structurally through the setup of our lives, something that is vital for robust health and critical for a holistic picture of health and vitality.

I’m writing this article because I have a passion for reframing our current relationship of fear with the sun, to one of value and deep respect. I strongly believe we are hurting ourselves with current mainstream approaches to the sun and would go so far as to say that regular and wide ranging sun exposure is the new superfood you aren’t having!

To me our ancient biology evolved in relationship to the sun and through years of research and body exploration I have come to believe that regular exposures to sunlight is actually a critical part of the healthy expression of our greatest biological potential. Basically our current sun avoidance policies are making us ill and blocking our health.

If you are already stirred with cries of  “sun = cancer” then you should probably read on…

Sunlight and epigenetics: Turning on our vitality

Our skin has its own human form of ‘photosynthesis’. It convert sunlight into a healing and regenerative steroidal hormone precursor, called vitamin D. Vitamin D, which we obtain primarily through sun exposure, not via diet, is responsible for supporting over 2000 bodily functions to work optimally and in the form of vitamin D3 can activate over 300 genes.

Exposure to sunlight and the production of vitamin D is literally written into the healthy expression of our genes. For example one study conducted by Dr. Michael Holick’s Ph.D., M.D. (an American endocrinologist, specialising in the field of vitamin D) showed that healthy volunteers who increased their vitamin D by 2,000 IUs per day for a few months up-regulated 291 different genes that control up to 80 different metabolic processes (ranging from improving DNA repair, boosting immune system function, to improving autoxidation – which has implications for aging and cancer).

We have receptor sites for vitamin D (called Vitamin D Receptors or VDRs) on EVERY part of our skin and when these receptors are not filled with sunlight there is an increased chance that sticky bacterial adhesions (bad news) glue to and bind up these VDRs, switching them off, which then down regulates our immune function, causing inflammation as well as interfering with our healthy gene expression (potentially turning on a large number of disease causing genes).

Sun spectacular-ness (aka the benefits)

So what are the benefits of regular healthy doses of sunlight?

  • Improved sleep quality and quantity: Too little light during the day and too much artificial light at night negatively impacts our melatonin production (the sleep well hormone) and therefore our ability to sleep well and rejuvenate at night.
  • Improved daytime wakefulness: Sunlight signals your hypothalamus and all related organs and glands to be alert and produce optimum levels of your ‘wake up’ hormones (especially early morning sun).
  • Improved immune function: Getting more sun increases the efficiency of your immune system (think flus, colds and infections of all kinds). This is a big one because not getting enough sun leaves you wide open to a bunch of viruses, fungi, bacterial infections as well as reduced ability to heal from injury and every day stresses.
  • Prevention of autoimmune diseases: Vitamin D is a potent immune modulator, making it very important for the prevention of autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Improved cardiovascular health: Vitamin D is very important for reducing hypertension, atherosclerotic heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of heart attack by 50 percent according to one study (ref below). Further to this, the study found that if you have a heart attack – while being vitamin D deficient – your risk of dying from that heart attack is nearly 100 percent! VDRs amazingly are also present even in our cardiac muscle and respond positively to sunlight on the skin improving cardiac function. Cholesterol, sulfur and vitamin D from sun exposure all work together to protect your heart, brain, and blood vessels, so it’s important that you have sufficient amounts of all three.
  • Emotional balance: The neurotransmitter serotonin (known as the happy feelings and well-being neurotransmitter) rises with exposure to bright light and falls with decreased sun exposure. Sunshine also causes a release of endorphins. There are also multiple studies that show a relationship with low vitamin D levels and depression.
  • Healthy, vibrant skin: The skin’s cellular renewal process is dependent upon vitamin D. Broader than just vitamin D, sunlight itself can help with skin blemishes, acne, eczema, bacterial/fungal infection, even psoriasis and can actually reduce fine lines and wrinkles through reducing inflammation and improving skin function and resilience.
  • Improved gut health: Our intestinal integrity has a strong relationship with the sun. Our skin and our guts have a complex intimate relationship and if one is down regulated it will usually show up in the other as well. Our access to vitamin D is integral to this relationship and the health of the mucosal barrier of our gastrointestinal wall. A vitamin D deficiency increases susceptibility to a number of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Decreased likelihood of osteoporosis: It is well understood that vitamin D is a crucial component of healthy bones and teeth and the utilisation of minerals such as calcium for building and maintain strong bones.
  • Improved thyroid function: Both cortisol and melatonin (which are supported by sunlight exposure) influence healthy thyroid hormone production. In addition a vitamin D deficiency is also associated with autoimmune thyroid disease.
  • Cancer prevention: Yep, slathering ourselves in chemically laden, hormone disputing petro creams to protect against skin cancer might not be as straight forward as it seems. The Journal of the American Board of Family Health says There currently is little evidence that sunscreens are protective against CMM {Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma}. A number of studies suggest that the use of sunscreen does not significantly decrease the risk of CMM, and may actually increase the risk of CMM and sunburns.” Cancer is increasingly being linked to sunburns, not sun exposure – an important distinction. There is also much research that points to the protective nature of healthy sun exposure to life threatening skin cancers!
  • Longevity: Yep higher vitamin D levels are associated with longevity and low vitamin D level have been found to be significant indicator of mortality!

There is more but this article is already too long! The reality is that we are only just beginning to understand the full spectrum of nutrients we receive from the sun (it really goes beyond just vitamin D synthesizing), but there is more than enough evidence to get us thinking more about (and feeling into) how we would like to relate to the sun in the future.

In part two of this article we will explore the ‘How’. How much is enough? How do you go about doing it strategically (avoiding the burn)? And how to start.

Love and sunshine

Amber

Resources and references:

Suns out, guns out (Part 2)

Part two of how to build a more beneficial relationship with the sun.

The HOW

In the previous article we discussed why getting larger doses of sunlight is critical to flourishing health and how it directly benefits many aspects of our everyday lives and experiences of well-being, including:

  • Improving sleep quality and quantity;
  • Increasing daytime wakefulness;
  • Improving immune function (including prevention and healing of autoimmune disease);
  • Up regulating cardiovascular health;
  • Balancing emotional well-being;
  • Promoting skin health and vibrancy;
  • Improving gut health and intestinal permeability;
  • Strengthening bones and teeth;
  • Improving thyroid function;
  • Increasing muscle tone;
  • Is necessary for normal cell division;
  • Relaxes nerves;
  • Supports eye health;
  • Regulates and balances hormones;
  • Reduces risk of cancer; and
  • Increases longevity!

“Vitamin D is designed to course through the body and facilitate various body functions. It repairs organs, boosts immune function, lowers insulin levels, reduces blood pressure, boosts neuromuscular functioning, and interacts with more than 2,000 genes…(along with vitamin K2) is essential for proper adsorption of calcium and other minerals into bones and teeth. It promotes efficient neuromuscular functioning and plays a role in anti-inflammatory processes.” Nadine Artemis (2017) Renegrade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance.

Cool, but how much sunlight is enough?

Well the answer is ‘it depends’ but for perspective think about the relationship our ancient ancestors would have had with the sun and how much of their lives where outside. This framing gives us an idea about how much sun we evolved to get and how our ancient biology is no longer being supported by our lives the way it once was. Even those with heritage from parts of the world with less direct sun would have generally experienced greater exposure then we currently do (generally speaking).

Now with our increasingly indoor lives and sun ‘protection’ practices, we get only a fraction of the regular sunlight we used to get. Our biology is mismatched to our current lifestyles, we simply need more outdoor time to fully activate that biology. Time to rethink our approach perhaps!

If the thought of getting out in the sun without protection has you running for the darkest corner of your house clutching your aloe vera, fear not, there is a way for you too…keep reading!

What is next…

So how do we go about getting more light in our lives and find a balance that is right for each of our individual bodies?

  1. Learn YOUR skin’s needs
  • It IS important not to get burnt so you need to work out what the edges of your sun tolerance are currently and start gently from there. This might mean for some starting with getting only your lower legs and forearms out in the sun for five minutes a day. We will need to start where we are at. This is about building not burning.
  • Getting smaller doses of sun more often is a good approach. Build up slowly and watch how your skin reacts. Be mindful and learn about your skin. You are your own science experiment. It’s your skin after all, learn how it works.
  • Know that much of our ‘sun-damaged’ skin actually comes from within! Rancid vegetable oils, inflammatory foods, processed foods, emotional stress, gut destroying pesticides on our foods etc. all wreak havoc on our bodies, our guts and our skin.
  • A useful rough guide to start with is to get enough sunlight to create a light pinkness in skin tone (this roughly creates around 20,000 IU of vitamin D in your system). Of course if you know ‘light pink’ means ‘burn’ later on then pare it back.
  • Get some help to learn about your skin in relationship to the sun, in your location, at different times of the day and year. I used the D Minder app to learn about the sun and UV ratings in my location, over the course of each day, season and weather type. The app then references this information against my skin type to give me vitamin D estimates as well as warning of likely time of burning. Useful stuff. Once you have some lived experience with this though you won’t need the app. You will have your body wisdom and knowledge of the season and sun to draw on. This knowledge is even more useful.
  1. Build a base tan
  • Gradually building a healthy base tan (yes I said healthy) for your skin type will increase your melanin, increasing your natural sun protection and decreasing your need for sticky sunscreen (and perfect for reducing burn risk in summer)! That will look different for everyone.
  • Spring is the perfect time to start gently.
  • I haven’t worn sunscreen for over two years now and I very rarely burn and not at all in the last two years. Why, because my skin starts tanning in winter, builds during spring and by the time summer hits I’m primed with my own built in sun protection.
  • Please note however that I am conscious around my sun exposure and when I have that feeling in my skin that says ‘I’m on the edge’ I seek out shade and cover up with clothes.
  1. Skin type and age factors: The lighter your skin tone the less exposure to sun is required to get vitamin D (good news my light skinned friends). Another factor to know is that aging decreases our ability to produce vitamin D via sunlight. For example a 70-year old has a 70% reduced ability to produce vitamin D compared to her 20-year old.
  1. Get unfiltered sunlight on your skin:
  • No windows, no sunscreen, no sunglasses, just you and the sun (wear a hat if you want to shade your eyes).
  • UVA (a longer light wave) is not well filtered by sunscreen or glass and in isolation it has greater photo damaging effects. UVB (a shorter light wave) on the other hand is what is filtered out by most sunscreens and glass and is the critical ingredient for the creation of vitamin D. You need to get both to get the right balance.
  • Note also UVA is highest in morning and evening sun so for vitamin D creation the morning to solar noon is most effective and least photo damaging. Of course middle of the day summer in Australia is pretty intense so work out what you need around this.
  • Sunglasses will block development of vitamin D by stopping the retina from signally the body to release the needed messages for vitamin D synthetisation. Wear a hat instead, it builds more resilient vision and supports the body to harmonise with the sun. Our eyes actually need sunlight too.
  1. Cover up, don’t smother up: Use clothes and shade to moderate your sun exposure, rather than relying on sunscreen. Use natural sunscreens (or make your own) only when necessary for your skin (not as a default choice). More often than not we don’t need as much sunscreen as we are putting on (often it can be a fear reflex rather than a conscious decision). Seriously rethink the need for sunscreen use in winter and early spring. When choosing a natural sunscreen look for one with zinc oxide as the active blocking ingredient and make sure it is uncoated, non-nanoparticles zinc oxide as this blocks and reflects the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them. Read labels.
  1. Eat your sunscreen
  • As mentioned what we ingest can determine how our skin interacts with the sun and well-nourished skin responds better to sunlight. Foods rich in colour and with thin skins (such as strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and blueberries) have natural sun protective compounds which they will share with you when you eat them. Plants rich in chlorophyll (such as spinach, kale or seaweed) can actually amplify the benefits of our sun time and better protect our skin.
  • Organic food is the best option here as any pesticide on your food may mitigate the positive benefits and reduce the nutrient availability.
  • Avoid vegetable oils not only because they are inflammatory but also because they can oxidise on the skin with sunlight exposure and cause weird pigmentation issues, age spots, increased likelihood of burns and increase photo aging effects.
  1. Heal and seal the skin: Use beneficial botanicals and essential oils to improve the quality of your skin and support your skin while it is in the sun. They aren’t like SPF 30 but oils such as virgin coconut, jojoba, olive and seabuckhorn can gently extend our time in the sun. Raspberry seed oil is a really good choice as it absorbs both UVB and UBC rays and scatters UVA (it is reported as being a effective as an SPF 20). Aloe Vera and jojoba mixed with peppermint and lavender have a cooling effect and promote healing if you do get a bit red.
  1. Suns out, tums out
  • When you are ready to, get your full torso in the sun, as it is both a larger surface for absorption and areas such as the torso have greater vit D creation potential when compared to hands, feet, face, arms and legs.
  • I actually recommend building up to complete all over sun time (it doesn’t have to be for long). It is a great health practice but also a beautiful way to start accepting and loving your whole body. Check out the hashtag #nakedsuntime for some inspiration.
  1. Skip the shower: After you have had a good sun soak don’t undo it all by having a shower. The chemicals in our water (chlorine and fluoride) will wash away the hormones and neurochemicals that are beginning to synthesised vitamin D under your skin (a river or the ocean are fine though). Leave it for as long as possible to get the most benefit (24 hours is optimum).
  1. Stock up: Winter is coming…ok not for a while but we can actually store additional vitamin D in our liver for the darker months (and the myriad of cold and flus it brings which are minimised by a stronger, sunlight infused, immune system stocked up on vit D). So get into it now while it is warm and experience the benefits when there is less sun available.

So let’s get outside a bit more, get our skin out a little more, maybe frolick a little and enjoy the experience of health that comes from this!

See you out there!

Amber

Further resources (additional resources listed in part one of this article)