For several decades now, the sun has been believed to be nothing but harmful for human beings, especially for our younger ones. If I agree that excessive exposure to the dreadful UVA could be potentially lethal, it has been recently discovered that moderate sun exposure could treat several diseases and end up being beneficial for your health. Even taking the skin-cancer risk fully into account, scientists say that getting a good dose of sunshine is statistically going to make us live longer, healthier and happier lives.
What Does “Moderate Sun Exposure” Mean?
The relationship between sun exposure and health in humans isn’t as straightforward as we might want it to be. Genes are a factor of how humans metabolize sunlight; as is skin type.
For instance, people with pale skin that burns easily in the sun are likely to get skin cancer if exposed to too much sun. The timing and duration of exposure is also a crucial factor when it comes to how our bodies metabolize sunlight.
That being said, a number of scientists suggest that the health benefits of moderate sun exposure may in fact outweigh the risks.
Professor Michael Holick, of Boston University School of Medicine and author of The UV Advantage says: “We get about 90 to 95 per cent of our vitamin D from the sun. It is essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our bones healthy, and for protecting against serious chronic diseases later in life such as osteoporosis, Type II diabetes, multiple sclerosis and many common cancers.”
He advises that we should go out in the sun without sunblock for between five and 15 minutes a day, at least three times a week in spring and summer, to boost our vitamin D levels.
Could Avoiding The Sun Actually Be Bad For Us?
A major clue about sunshine’s benefits has emerged from a study of nearly 30,000 Swedish women whose sunbathing habits have been followed for 20 years, concluding that avoiding the sun is actually as bad for you as smoking.
The study, in the Journal of Internal Medicine, found that the avid sunbathers (once a day) had a up to 50% less cardiovascular diseases and other conditions that were not related to cancer, than those who said they had avoided sunbathing.
Dr Pelle Lindqvist, the epidemiologist who led the study, says the research also found that: “Non-smokers who avoided the sun had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoiding the sun is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude to smoking.”
Moderate Sun Exposure Builds Strong Children
Regular sunlight exposure increases the growth and height of children, especially babies. Studies have shown the amount of sun exposure in the first few months has an effect on how tall the person grows. Many cultures throughout history have recognized this fact and exposed children to mild sun to boost growth and height.
There’s also evidence that exposure when you’re young — perhaps before your 20th birthday — matters most. A large Scandinavian study of melanoma risk published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2003 found that adolescence is the most dangerous time to get a sunburn.
Moderate Sun Exposure Builds Strong Bones
We know that:
- Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of bone-strengthening calcium and phosphorus in the body
- Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to create vitamin D.
However, emerging research also indicates there is a direct correlation between bone density and vitamin D3.
When you have higher levels of vitamin D3 in your blood, you are at a lower risk of suffering fractures of virtually all types. On the other hand, lower levels of vitamin D3 in the blood are associated with higher rate of all types of fractures, rickets in children and bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
This is why sun exposure is especially important for bone health in older adults.
According to a study, in a 30-minute period while wearing a swimsuit, people will make the following vitamin D levels:
- 50,000 international units (IUs) in most Caucasian people
- 20,000 to 30,000 IUs in tanned people
- 8,000 to 10,000 IUs in dark skinned people
Moderate Sun Exposure Builds Strong Hearts
There is a reduction in cardiovascular disease and deaths from all causes with increased sun exposure. A study in the British Medical Journal showed that people in the UK are more likely to die of heart disease in winter than in summer, which is believed to be because of low levels of vitamin D. Where you live in the UK also matters. Blackpool has 27% more hours of sunshine a year than Burnley and 9% fewer deaths from coronary heart disease.
1. Sunlight Lowers Cholesterol.
The sun converts high cholesterol in the blood into steroid hormones and the sex hormones we need for reproduction. In the absence of sunlight, the opposite happens: substances convert to cholesterol. Cholesterol levels also rise in winter, according to reports in medical magazine The Lancet, and this is because our vitamin D levels fall.
2. The Sun’s Rays Lower Blood Pressure.
Even a single exposure significantly lowers blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure. On the other hand, pharmaceutical drugs such as Statins have side effects, such as robbing the body of Coenzyme Q10, essential for cellular and heart energy. This benefit has nothing to do with vitamin D. Instead, it is due to the fact that when our skin is exposed to the sun a compound—called nitric oxide—is released in our blood vessels which in turn lowers blood pressure by causing blood vessels to widen. Scientists found that exposing people with high blood pressure to UVB rays in a tanning salon lowers blood pressure by similar amounts as prescribed drugs.
3. Sunlight Penetrates Deep Into Your Skin To Cleanse Your Blood And Blood Vessels.
Medical literature published in Europe showed that people with atherosclerosis (hardened arteries) improved with sun exposure.
4. Sunlight Increases Oxygen Content In Human Blood.
It also enhances your body’s capacity to deliver oxygen to the tissues, very similar to the effects of exercise. The sun has a great effect on stamina, fitness and muscular development.
5. Sunlight Alters The Way That Our Genes Behave.
Cambridge University scientists showed that the expression of 28% of our entire genetic make-up varies from season to season.
Moderate Sun Exposure Builds Strong Immune System
Sun exposure can help suppress an overactive immune system, which could explain why sunlight is used to treat autoimmune diseases like psoriasis. And since white blood cells increase with sun exposure and they play a key role in fighting diseases and defending the body against infection, moderate sun exposure is very helpful for your immune system.
Moderate Sun Exposure & Mental Health
1. Sunlight Can Fight Insomnia.
When sunlight hits our eyes, a message is sent to the pineal gland in the brain and production of melatonin (a hormone that makes us drowsy and helps us sleep) is shut down until the sun goes down again. Your body gets a clear signal that it’s no longer night and this helps to maintain a normal circadian rhythm: you enter into sleep more easily at night.
When it gets dark outside, your body gets the signal again and you feel tired and drowsy at bedtime. Low levels of melatonin production at night due to overproduction during the day has been linked to poor sleep quality, especially in older adults. Ditch the sunglasses early in the morning when you wake up if possible so your body gets the message that it is day and triggers the pineal gland to stop releasing melatonin.
2. Sunlight Can Cure Depression.
Melatonin production also shows a seasonal variation relative to the availability of light, with the hormone produced for a longer period in the winter than in the summer. The melatonin rhythm phase advancement caused by exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression.
The melatonin precursor, serotonin, is also affected by exposure to daylight. Normally produced during the day, serotonin is only converted to melatonin in darkness. Whereas high melatonin levels correspond to long nights and short days, high serotonin levels in the presence of melatonin reflect short nights and long days (i.e., longer UVR exposure). Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and a calm yet focused mental outlook. Indeed, SAD—also common in people who work long hours in office buildings—has been linked with low serotonin levels during the day as well as with a phase delay in nighttime melatonin production.
It was recently found that mammalian skin can produce serotonin and transform it into melatonin, and that many types of skin cells express receptors for both serotonin and melatonin.
3. Sunlight Can Increase Cognitive Functions.
One study led by neuroscientist David Llewellyn of the University of Cambridge, assessed vitamin D levels in more than 1,700 men and women from England, aged 65 or older and found that cognitive function reduced the lower the subjects’ vitamin D levels were. However, more studies have found sunlight could help spur nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for forming, organizing and storing of memories.
Moderate Sun Exposure & Skin
While the sun has gotten a bad rap, being portrayed as little more than a skin cancer-inducing object in the sky to be avoided at all cost, it’s important to consider that exposure to UVB light is actually protective against melanoma (the most lethal form of skin cancer).
As documented in The Lancet: “Paradoxically, outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.”
1. The Sun’s Light Kills Bad Bacteria.
The German solders after WWI knew of the discoveries that had been made in 1903 by the Nobel Prize winner, Niels Finsen. They used sunlight to disinfect and heal wounds.
2. Sunlight Has A Beneficial Effect On Skin Disorders.
According to the World Health Organization, sun exposure can treat several skin conditions for the right person. Doctors have recommended UV radiation exposure to treat psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. While light therapy isn’t for everyone, a dermatologist can recommend if light treatments will benefit your skin concerns. However, this alternative treatment method should be done under medical supervision to prevent negative side-effects of UV radiation and to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks.
In one study, a four-week outdoor sunbathing therapy was successfully used to significantly clear symptoms of psoriasis in 84% of subjects.
3. Some UV Could Have A Good Effect On Your Skin.
While UVB light gives you that tanned look and causes your skin to produce vitamin D, UVA rays are the ones associated with skin damage and skin cancer. However, only UVA light, unlike UVB, can pass through window glass.
A study in Medical Hypotheses suggested that indoor workers may have increased rates of melanoma because they’re exposed to sunlight through windows. Since indoor workers, who get three to nine times less solar UV exposure than outdoor workers, are missing out on exposure to the beneficial UVB rays, they will have lower levels of vitamin D.
The study even noted that indoor UV actually breaks down vitamin D3 formed after outdoor UVB exposure, which would therefore make vitamin D3 deficiency and melanoma risk even worse.
A number of associations between regular sun exposure and decreased melanoma risk can be found in the medical literature. For example:
- Occupational exposure, such as farmers and fishermen, and regular weekend sun exposure are associated withdecreased risk of melanoma.
- Sun exposure appears to protect against melanoma on skin sitesnot exposed to sun light, and melanoma occurring on skin with large UV exposure has the best prognosis.
- Patients with the highest blood levels of vitamin D have thinner melanoma and better survival prognosis than those with the lowest vitamin D levels.
Exposure to the sun should be done SLOWLY! If you are not used to the sun, then your skin will be more sensitive to it. Avoid sunburn by building up your tolerance.
Defining an excess amount of sun exposure depends upon your skin type and how direct the sun’s rays are. Fairer skinned people typically get a sunburn more quickly with sun exposure than others who are darker skinned. Also, a person is more likely to get a sunburn going outside when the sun’s rays are more direct. This usually takes place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
According to the World Health Organization, getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face two to three times a week is enough to enjoy the vitamin D-boosting benefits of sun. Note that the sun actually has to penetrate the skin — wearing sunscreen and/or clothing over the skin won’t result in vitamin D production.
Because excess sun exposure is linked with increased skin cancer risk, refrain from staying outside too long without sunscreen. If you’re going to be outside longer than 15 minutes or so, you’ll need a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.