The Sun warms our seas, stirs our atmosphere, generates our weather patterns, and gives energy to the growing green plants that provide the food and oxygen for life on Earth. But how does it affect us? Are there sunlight health benefits? As a society, we are constantly bombarded with conflicting opinions about this question and everyone, from governments, scientists, teachers and activists, all have differing points of view at different times. So, go out in the sun, stay away from the sun? What should we do?
Speaking personally, I know that I feel amazing when I’m in the sun; I feel energised, full of frolics and fiddle-de-dees! So, even before I read about the benefits of sunlight, I feel the urge to get outside and embrace the sunlight. But, how do you feel? As we approach warmer weather, it might be time for you to choose. So, to help you make that decision, I have compiled a few interesting scientific facts about the sun.
The benefits of sunlight
We all need a certain amount of sunlight. Photons of light charge our mitochondria and provide crucial energy and information for optimal health and well being. Additionally, sunlight on the skin is responsible for triggering the production of some of the most critical hormones and many neurotransmitters. Ultraviolet light (UV) triggers vitamin D production and a range of other compounds through skin exposure. Low UV is associated with an increased rate of diverticulitis admissions (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4504233/) and an increase in the rates and severity of inflammatory bowel disease hospitalisation (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24943863). An increase in sunlight exposure can reduce eczema and rhinitis (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23725559).
Sunlight and cancer
Did you know that sunlight can reduce some cancers? A review in the European Journal of Cancer suggested that chronic exposure was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal, breast, prostate cancer and NHL (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23237739). So benefits extend beyond simply triggering vitamin D production and may help prevent cancers that are more common and more dangerous than skin cancer which is ranked number 10 (see http://www.cancerindex.org/medterm/medtm2.htm). Another study found that invasive cancers and 11 out of 22 leading cancers significantly decreased with more UV exposure with no association between melanoma of the skin and exposure. Only liver and cervical cancer rates had increased slightly (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27195056).
Sunlight and all-cause mortality (deaths due to disease or harmful exposure)
A large study tracked women living in Sweden (a country with low solar intensity) for 20 years and found that low exposure might be a risk for all-cause mortality concluding that restricting your exposure to sunlight in countries like Sweden might be harmful to your health. (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24697969).
The British Medical Journal analysed a study of 26,000 men and women (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24938302) and found that despite where you live, what the season is and whether you are male or female, sunlight had the following effect:
- Lack of sunlight is linked with low vitamin D in Alzheimer’s (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29565713).
- Sunlight improved sleep quality (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29565713)
- Sunlight increases serotonin levels, reducing depression (see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673602117375).
- Sunlight increases dopamine helping seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and Parkinson’s (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3819153/)
- Sunlight helps your ability to think and be alert (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16920622)
- Sunlight reduces pain (see https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2005/0100/The_Effect_of_Sunlight_on_Postoperative_Analgesic.22.aspx)
- Sunlight and vitamin D reduces diabetes, insulin resistance and obesity (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5086738/)
- Sunlight supports bone health and reduces osteoporosis (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520343/)
- Sunlight supports eye health (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4451516/)
In addition to the above, sunlight can also help to prevent autoimmunities such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3626364/), and heart disease (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8935479).
Another study of women who were monitored for 15 years found that an increase in sunburn frequency was linked to a reduction in all-cause mortality; sunbathing holidays more than once a year reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality! (see http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/20/4/683).
Food alone is not a good enough source for vitamin D
The Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that food sources couldn’t provide enough vitamin D alone, suggesting that sun exposure is needed to maintain the correct levels or to treat deficiencies (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4536937/). They believed that “moderate sun exposure to the arms, shoulders, trunk and legs should be sought rather than avoided.”
Our skin is our solar energy panel, a battery for the heart
Sunlight hitting the skin produces vitamin D and cholesterol sulphate at the same time. Cholesterol is a precursor to many steroid hormones that are essential for health. It is also needed in all our cell membranes and helps the health of the myelin sheath. But what does sulphate do in our body? Sulphate exists throughout the body in a variety of forms and its functions are:
- Helping to detoxify drugs, food additives and toxic metals
- Preventing blood from coagulating during transit through capillaries
- Helping neuro health
According to Dr Stephanie Seneff, the Senior Research Scientist at the MIP Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, “…the skin can be viewed as a solar-powered battery for the heart, and that is a remarkable concept. The energy in sunlight is converted into chemical energy in the oxygen-sulfur bonds and then transported through the blood vessels to the heart and skeletal muscles. The cholesterol sulfate and vitamin D3 sulfate are carriers that deliver the energy (and the oxygen) ‘door-to-door’ to the individual heart and skeletal muscle cells.” So, sunlight is required for our health. And advice to avoid sunlight has been misleading and wrong!
The benefits of red and infrared light
And there’s more! Red and infrared light are naturally found in sunlight. Sunlight contains the entire range: red, Infrared (IFR) and UV. There is a huge amount of research on the benefits of red and IFR light therapy. From helping to heal osteoarthritis, healing nerves in stroke patients, stimulating neural stem cells, learning and memory after traumatic brain injury to helping hair to regrow, managing anxiety and healing fractures and wounds (check out the links at the ends of this blog for some additional reading).
Light therapy and how it works
It is known that if you blast a cell with UV light so that 99% of the cell, including its DNA, is destroyed, you can almost entirely repair the damage in a single day by illuminating the cell with the same wavelength of very weak intensity. To this day, conventional scientists don’t understand this phenomenon, but nobody has disputed it. Light sensitive molecules don’t just exist in the eyes in the form of rhodopsin, they’re also present in haemoglobin, myoglobin, cytochrome and aromatic amines which exist throughout the human body. Did you know that the pigment that is known to capture light in plant photosynthesis has a parallel molecular structure to haemoglobin, the iron-rich protein in human blood cells?
Our bodies work to convert the sun’s energy
Photons, the fundamental particles of light, are absorbed by the mitochondria. Fascinating when you think about it…our mitochondria capture energy originating 93 billions of miles away – the energy of the sun – and convert it for our cells to use. They are stuffed with light-sensitive cytochrome. As the energy from the sun is absorbed by the cytochrome which in turn stimulates the creation of a molecule that stores energy in our cells. That molecule, called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is like an all-purpose battery, providing energy for the cell’s work. ATP can also provide energy that can be used by the immune system for cell repair. This may also explain how lasers can heal so many conditions.
Harnessing the sun’s health benefits
So, what can we do in a practical sense to capture the health benefits of sunlight? I’ve put a list of recommendations together for you to consider:
- Morning sun is critical for circadian signalling, brain function (dopamine and serotonin), and oxygenation of the blood.
- Midday sun is critical for the synthesis of vitamin D and cholesterol sulfate, as well as the synthesis of sex hormones and neuropeptides.
- You want FULL BODY skin exposure (but cover up any sensitive skin areas, like your face, lips, nose, or any other sensitive areas).
- Avoid burning!
- UV lights from tanning beds are HARMFUL! You need sun exposure to full-spectrum natural sunlight. Avoid tanning beds!
- Avoid tanning through a window, as it will increase your skin cancer risk. (Windows block out protective UVB light. You need both UVB and UVA light for balanced health. UVA light is linked to skin cancer, ageing, and darkening of the skin).
- Midday sun has the highest proportion of UVB, which is critical for the synthesis of vitamin D, melanin, and cholesterol sulfate.
- NON-BURNING sun exposure sessions around noon for about 20 minutes (or more if you have more sun tolerance) are ideal.
- Full body sun exposure (to ALL parts of your naked body, including your nether regions) is ideal to get hormonal benefits.
- Cover moles or see a dermatologist have any reactive moles removed.
- Sex hormones boosted by full-body sun exposure have a massive impact on brain function, health, energy levels, and body composition.
Whilst following some of the recommendations above, please be aware that the amount of time you spend in the sun depends on:
- How close to the equator you live
- How much skin you expose to the sun
- Your weight
- What season it is
- What time of day
- How old you are
- Whether you are lying down
- Whether you are wearing sunscreen
How much sun do I need to benefit from vitamin D?
If you are sunbathing with full skin exposure to the sun, you can get 4000ius of vitamin D with 20 minutes in the sun. Jogging would be an hour. Golf would be for three hours. Bear in mind that you will need to adapt your exposure depending on the climate, your skin colour and body composition. Here is a guideline for adaptation:
- Obese (2x more minutes)
- Black Skin (5x more minutes)
- Early morning or late afternoon sun (2x more minutes)
- Sun during Spring or Fall ( >2x more minutes)
- Urban haze – perhaps 2x or 4x more minutes
Should I wear sunscreen?
If you work in the outdoors all day, are planning a trip to an outdoor theme park, or if you need to protect sensitive areas of your face (like around your eyes), safe sunscreen is highly recommended. However, covering up and staying out of the sun would be better since most sunscreens contain very toxic chemicals and sunscreen overuse blocks your body’s ability to produce vitamin D and cholesterol sulphate.
Minimise time in the sun without sunscreen to prevent sunburn and go slowly and progressively to increase your skin’s tolerance – and cover any sensitive areas! If you want to have a go at making a sunscreen that is mineral (not chemical) based, try mixing zinc oxide powder and coconut oil. And if unfortunately, you do get burnt, aloe vera is great support.
How to get UVB in winter or a cloudy climate
In this instance, you have two options. You can use a safe tanning bed that must also contain red light or you can have UVB emitting lights along with a red/infrared light therapy device in your home.
The amazing health benefits of sun exposure
So, the sun provides us with the restorative energy we need to grow and heal. Previous advice to stay away from the sun and links to skin cancer seems to be outweighed by the healing benefits of exposure to the sun. It can lower blood pressure, improve bone health, brain function, ease mild depression, improve sleep quality, lessen Alzheimer’s symptoms, heal skin disorders and much, much more.
My advice would be to take care not to burn, increment your exposure to the sun progressively and adapt it depending on where you live, your body type, skin colour and the climate. Be, sensible, but don’t hide away and stay in the shade – enjoy your life in the sun and sunlight health benefits!
Research to indicate the benefits of red and infrared light:
- It helps heal osteoarthritis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22169831
- Triggers regrowth of cartilage. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20201664
- To heal nerves in stroke patients (this is the focus of research by Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, including Harvard professor Michael Hamblin, the world-leading expert in light therapy). http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/026921559400800205?journalCode=crea
- Promotes the growth of collagen in skin fibres (anti-ageing). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1008778/
- It improves cognition and mood. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23200785
- Stimulates neural stem cells, learning and memory after traumatic brain injury. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189010/
- It can heal and regenerate a damaged cranial nerve. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15072645
- Regenerates neurons in the brain after injury. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19199510
- Reduces inflammation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23003120
- Promotes wound healing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC522143/
- Reduces depression and anxiety. https://behavioralandbrainfunctions.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1744-9081-5-46
- Traumatic brain injury. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065857/
- Pain from orthodontics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18251609?dopt=Citation
- Promotes tooth repair. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140528150559.htm
- Helps hair regrowth/baldness. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23970445
- Helps acne. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3352636/
- Healing heart after damage. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24991808
- It helps heal fractures. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19399356
- It helps with fibromyalgia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24801056
- Improving bone density. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22582845
- Increases testosterone. http://www.alliedacademies.org/articles/the-effects-of-low-level-laser-therapy-lllt-on-the-testis-in-elevatingserum-testosterone-level-in-rats.html
- Improves bone density. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22582845
- Enhances liver regeneration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20932182
- Allergic rhinitis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24319484
- Neuropathy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24026991
- Candida infection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22189647 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15954824 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15493034
- Vision disorder like macular degeneration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18588438
- Retinitis pigmentosa. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24527959
- Hearing problems such as tinnitus. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2013/596076/
- Muscle tissue for performance, fatigue, and repair. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23626925
- Spinal cord injury. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24030687
- Anxiety. https://behavioralandbrainfunctions.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1744-9081-5-46
- Pain relief in various syndromes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16706694 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25024832 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25061034
- Arthritis. https://arthritis-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/ar4354 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22747309
- Back pain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18425909
- Neck pain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19913903
- Autoimmune conditions like thyroiditis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2271847
- Parkinson’s. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19534794/
- Alzheimer’s. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23946409 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24994540