All of us need to get some sunlight in order to remain healthy. Some scientists are now considering sunlight a “super nutrient”. Let’s look at the ways that sunlight helps our bodies.
Vitamin D is necessary for good health. Vitamin D is required to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. It also promotes calcium absorption making our bones strong. It may help you maintain a healthy immune system and regulate cell growth.
A deficiency of Vitamin D in children can result in Rickets, soft bones and skeletal deformities. Deficiencies in adults can lead to osteomalacia, muscular weakness, weak bones, and is a contributor to osteoporosis.
We obtain Vitamin D through foods like egg yolks, tuna, salmon, cod liver oil, fortified milk and fortified cereals. But our best source is when our skin synthesizes Vitamin D when exposed to UV rays from sunlight. Just being outside in the sun 15 minutes 2 times per week will provide your body with enough Vitamin D. Sunscreen prevents your skin from synthesizing Vitamin D, so leave off the sunscreen for a while and let those rays hit your skin and provide you with your required amount of vitamin D.
In recent years the number of people with a Vitamin D deficiency is rising. Contributing factors to this may be increasing pollution, over use of sunscreen (we have literally become a nation afraid of the sun), and people are pursuing less outdoor activities.
Circadian Rhythms – Natural daylight is as important as nighttime darkness in maintaining a normal circadian rhythm. If you are struggling with sleepiness, mood swings and energy levels your body may not be responding properly to normal light signals. You need to reset your body clock to the sun. Get outside for 15 minutes at the same time each morning so your body gets a clear signal that it is daytime. Many of us wake up indoors, travel to work while it is still dark and remain inside most of the day. We need the actual radiation from the sun to help our bodies know that it is daytime not the time to be sleepy.
Melatonin Secretion – Rays from the sunlight stimulate the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a pea sized organ in the brain that secretes melatonin, a hormone that controls many bodily functions. Melatonin helps your body regulate when to sleep and when to wake up. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin while light suppresses its activity. Exposure to excessive light in the evening or too little light during the day can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles. Melatonin also helps control the timing and release of female reproductive hormones. It helps determine when menstruation begins, the frequency and duration of menstrual cycles, and when menstruation ends (menopause).
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during winter months affects 25% of the population. One out of every 4 people are showing signs of fatigue, low energy, increased appetite, weight gain, and depression all because we are not getting any sunlight. Full spectrum light therapy was introduced in 1984 to help those suffering from SAD. 70% of patients improve when using this light therapy that mimics the sun.
Newborn Jaundice – Jaundice is a common condition in newborns and refers to the yellow color of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by excess bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundiced infants improve when placed in natural sunlight. When it is not possible to expose a child to sunlight (due to weather or environment) hospitals and individuals can place their infants under full spectrum lighting with great results. Full spectrum light is also used to treat psoriasis and herpes simplex infection. Full spectrum light mimics sunlight.
The science of photobiology is a recent one. The American Society of Photobiology was founded in 1972. Photobiology is the biological study of the interactions of light with living organisms. More and more scientists are discovering that sunlight plays an important part in our world and in our health.
Let’s raise our awareness of the health benefits of natural sunlight and be careful of being overly fearful with sunscreen so that we can better manage our health. It would be horrible to see diseases like rickets and osteoporosis continue to rise in frequency due to a lack of sunlight; or to fall into depression with SAD or battle insomnia when our circadian rhythms are messed up all because of a lack of natural light in our lives.