3 Health Benefits of Sunlight

At this point of existence, most people know and understand the sheer necessity of the only star in our solar system – the sun. Should the sun cease to exist, so would all life as we know it, so to say that we depend on it for our survival is no exaggeration. Not only do we need the is sunlight needed for the obvious warmth, light, and uniformity of our solar system, but it offers healing to us in unimaginable ways. As anyone who’s taken a biology class probably knows, plant-life rely on the sun for almost every aspect of survival, but most would be surprised to learn the health effects our modern sun-avoiding lives eventually have.

Many people today live in such fear of the sun, sunburns, and skin cancer, that they spend most of their lives staying away from it. And, while it is no secret that the sun is tough on the skin, and contributing to aging, it is important to understand that, just as with herbs, oils, and other natural medicinals, dosage is so important. “Several studies have suggested that suddenly getting a lot of sun is more dangerous then steady exposure over time.”[1] Because short bursts of sun exposure, versus one long stent in the sun, tend to lower the risk of sunburn or sun poisoning, they tend to be better all around – offering incredible benefit, while also keeping the risk relatively low. So, what are some benefits sun exposure can have for our health?

1. May Prolong Life

No statement may be quite as loaded as “may prolong life”, but that’s the conclusion researchers at the University of Edinburgh came to when researching the importance of sun exposure and its relationship with the heart. Before this study, it was believed that the only effect the sun had on the heart and blood pressure could be related back to the vitamin D aspect of it. Vitamin D, or “The Sunshine Vitamin”, has long been recognized as having the ability to lower blood pressure[2], but this finding was separate from the vitamin D component completely. It was discovered that nitric oxide, a compound that helps the blood vessels maintain blood pressure, was released when the skin was allowed contact with the sun’s rays[3]. The reason this finding is so valuable to the health community, and our society as a whole, is because heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans, and nitric oxide actually has the ability to signal an impending heart attack before it even happens[4]. Another reason that sun exposure is so valuable to living a long, healthy life is because lowered blood pressure is associated with a lowered risk of stroke, a medical diagnosis that is extremely common, affecting nearly 800,000 people per year in the US. Researchers from Edinburgh even suggest that exposure to sunlight should be more widely recommended, as the “benefits of reducing blood pressure far outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer.”

2. May Reduce the Risk of Dementia

As we age, one of the most commonly feared diseases becomes dementia, as it continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives, without warning. Dementia is the leading cause of death in England[5], and many doctors and scientists are scrambling to get ahead of this terrifying illness. Several studies have emerged, pointing to a potential link between dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease, and chronic vitamin D deficiency[6,7], and our constantly-indoor, sedentary lifestyle seems to come back to bite us again. One study that monitored healthy, elderly American women found that vitamin D deficiency could even be a predictor of dementia onset[8]. Those who were severely deficient in vitamin D were 19 times more likely to be diagnosed with non-Alzheimer’s dementia, and a 125% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease[9].

3. May Make You Happier

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression, a type of depression that’s related to the change in seasons (and affects most people throughout the fall and winter months) is an extremely common form of mental illness. This type of depression is most often thought to be connected to vitamin D deficiency, as temperature and pollution have shown little to no impact on mental health, while lowered sun exposure does, and phototherapy is an option for many sufferers. Serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter directly associated with mood, have proven to be directly impacted by time spent in the sun, and in many people, levels of it tend to be lowest in the darker, colder months. Studies have uncovered the fact that serotonin levels in the brain are “directly related to the prevailing duration of bright sunlight“[10], and high serotonin levels result in more positive moods, more energy, better sleep, and a calm yet focused mental outlook[11]. While not quite as understood as the relationship with serotonin, the sun also seems to play an important role relating to dopamine production. Dopamine, another neurotransmitter that greatly impacts mood, and abnormalities in production have been normalized among patients treated with bright light[12]. In fact, light therapy has even proven more effective at treating Major Depressive Disorder than antidepressant monotherapy, but is definitely a beneficial supplement to any treatment plan[13].

As inhabitants of this planet, we belong outdoors, soaking up the rays of the sun. While we may not perform photosynthesis when the sun’s light connects with our skin, our bodies do respond positively. Today’s lifestyle of hiding indoors all day is only harming us in the long-run. Get outside, and get healthy!

Until next time,
Savannah

 

References:

1. Harvard Health Publishing Benefits of Moderate Sun Exposure
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/benefits-of-moderate-sun-exposure
2. NCBI Vitamin D: The ‘Sunshine’ Vitamin 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3356951/
3. Science Daily Sunshine Could Benefit Health and Prolong Life, Study Suggests
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130507195807.htm
4. NobelPrize.org The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1998
https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1998/press.html
5. BBC News Dementia Now Leading Cause of Death 
https://www.bbc.com/news/health-37972141
6. NCBI Vitamin D and Alzheimer’s Disease: Is there a Link
https://www.bbc.com/news/health-37972141
7. NCBI Does Vitamin D Reduce the Risk of Dementia
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19494440
8. NCBI Serum Vitamin D Deficiency as a Predictor of Incident non-Alzheimer’s Dementia: A 7-Year Longitudinal Study
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22261995
9. The Telegraph Study: Sunshine ‘Could Help to Stave Off Dementia’
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/elder/11017445/Study-sunshine-could-help-to-stave-off-dementia.html
10. The Lancet Effect of Sunlight and Season on Serotonin Turnover in the Brain
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673602117375
11. NCBI Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/
12. NCBI Dopamine and Circadian Rhythms in Seasonal Affective Disorder
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8898318
13. Medscape Light Therapy Highly Effective for Major Depression
https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/854857