This year’s concerns about the spread of CoVid-19 even during the summer months has caused many people to get less exposure to direct sunlight than they normally would. If you have been spending most or all of your time away from direct sunlight, you may have noticed that your ability to stay upbeat and focused has suffered. A mood boost isn’t the only reason to get increased amounts of sunlight, however. There are several health benefits associated with catching moderate amounts of rays. I hope that you enjoy these tips and make ways to build some daily sunshine into your life.
SUNLIGHT AND MENTAL HEALTH
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep.
Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.
Decreased sun exposure has been associated with a drop in your serotonin levels, which can lead to major depression with seasonal pattern. The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin. So, you’re more likely to experience this type of depression in the winter when the days are shorter.
Due to this connection, one of the main treatments for depression with seasonal pattern is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. You can get a light therapy box to have at home. The light from the box mimics natural sunlight that stimulates the brain to make serotonin and reduces excess melatonin.
Personal note: I have a professional quality, full-spectrum grow light in one corner of my living room to support a container Meyer lemon tree. Its presence has contributed significantly to my mood uplift during the winter months. This effect is especially pronounced when I sit right next to the tree.
Exposure to sunlight can also benefit those with:
- other types of major depression
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- pregnant people with depression
SUNLIGHT AND MELATONIN
The brain’s pineal gland benefits directly from the sun stimulation. The pineal produces melatonin, an important hormone made during dark hours that protects our skin. In addition, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant for body-wide use, is important for proper sleep and intestinal function, and can help prevent depression. Caution: Aspirin reduces melatonin production, so – if you take it – you may not want to take it regularly at night.
SUNLIGHT AND VITAMIN D
Exposure to the ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation in the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to create vitamin D. According to one study a person will make the following vitamin D levels in a 30-minute period while wearing a swimsuit:
- 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
The vitamin D made thanks to the sun plays a big role in bone health. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to rickets (a cause of brittle bones in children) and bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
Vitamin D allows us to use calcium more effectively, improves our immune system, helps prevents cancer, and is important for brain function.
SUNLIGHT AND CANCER PREVENTION
Although excess sunlight can contribute to skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight actually has preventive benefits when it comes to cancer.
According to researchers, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers than those who live where there’s more sun during the day. These cancers include:
SUNLIGHT AND SKIN CONDITIONS
According to the World Health Organization, sun exposure might help treat several skin conditions. Doctors have recommended UV radiation exposure to treat:
While light therapy isn’t for everyone, a dermatologist can recommend whether light treatments will benefit your specific skin concerns.
SUNLIGHT AND EYES
Seeing the natural light of the sun helps the brain work better. Contact lenses, eyeglasses, sunglasses and even windows block the helpful sun rays. Never stare at the sun, but expose your eyes to sunlight without any coverings.
In addition to the healthy effect on your skin, sunlight also provides another positive benefit. The human eye contains photosensitive cells in its retina, with connections directly to the pituitary gland in the brain. Stimulation of these important cells comes from sunlight, in particular, the blue unseen spectrum. A study by Turner and Mainster of the University of Kansas School of Medicine published in the British Journal of Opthamology in 2008 states that, “these photoreceptors play a vital role in human physiology and health.” The effects are not only in the brain, but the whole body.
Photosensitive cells in the eye also directly affect the brain’s hypothalamus region, which controls our biological clock. This influences our circadian rhythm, not just important for jet lag but for normal sleep patterns, hormone regulation, increased reaction time, and behavior. Most cells in the body have an important cyclic pattern when working optimally, so just about any area of the body can falter without adequate sun stimulation. Turner and Mainster state that, “ensuing circadian disturbances can have significant physiological and psychological consequences.” This also includes “increasing risk of disease” (including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease).
The hypothalamus also regulates the combined actions of the nervous and hormonal systems.
One of the specific effects of the eye’s photosensitive cells is helping you to get out of bed each morning. The transition from sleep to waking up requires the effects of the body’s adrenal glands, influenced by the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary (see my blog post on Adrenals). Exposure to morning sunlight also helps raise body temperature to normal (after a slight reduction during sleep), and numerous brain activities including increased alertness and better cognition—helping mood and vitality. I recommend embracing the morning and taking a peek outside (not through a window – that blocks the helpful rays) at the dawn’s first sunlight – or as early as you get up after sunrise. You may find that you are less sleepy and less hungry throughout the day by implementing this practice.
Aging reduces the ability to benefit from sun stimulation through the eyes, mostly due to eye-related disease development, especially problems such as glaucoma, and cataracts. Chronic inflammation and carbohydrate intolerance are two common problems associated with these and other eye illnesses.
Up to 70 percent of those 65 years and older have chronic sleep disturbances, with potentially any of the other health problems mentioned above. Turner and Mainster conclude that, “Light deficiency, whether due to improper timing, suboptimal spectrum or insufficient intensity, may contribute to medical conditions commonly assumed to be age-related inevitabilities.”
Indoor lighting may provide some eye stimulation if your light bulbs are the full spectrum type. But it won’t take the place of a regular habit of getting morning sun into unshielded eyes. This routine is even more important with age.
Caution: Long-term, unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun can damage the retina. The retina is the back of the eye, where the rods and cones make visual images, which are then sent to the visual centers in the brain. Damage from exposure to sunlight can also cause the development of cloudy bumps along the edge of the cornea, which can then grow over the cornea and prevent clear vision. UV light is also a factor in the development of cataracts.
SUNLIGHT AND WEIGHT LOSS
Morning light also seems to help people keep the fat off. You need 20 to 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and noon to make a difference, but the earlier you get it, the better it seems to work. Scientists think the sun’s rays may shrink fat cells below your skin’s surface. More sunshine means you’re probably getting more exercise too, which is good for you in lots of ways, including shedding pounds.
SUNLIGHT AND OTHER CONDITIONS
Research studies have revealed preliminary links between sunlight as a potential treatment for several other conditions. These include:
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- systemic lupus erythematosus
- inflammatory bowel disease
- diabetes https://www.informationaboutdiabetes.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/health-benefits-of-sunshine-for-people-with-diabetes. Once considered an adult-onset disease, type 2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in our kids. It’s a lifelong disease, and harder to treat in the young. Some studies suggest that vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing it (one study found that those with high levels were 40% less likely than those with low levels)
However, more studies need to be conducted before researchers can conclude that sunlight can be a treatment for these and other conditions.
THE NEED FOR MODERATION
While there are a lot of good reasons to get sun, the sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation can penetrate the skin and damage cell DNA. This can lead to skin cancer.
Researchers don’t always have an exact measurement for how long you should stay outside to reap the benefits of sunlight. But defining an excess amount of sun exposure depends on your skin type and how direct the sun’s rays are. On the other hand, the risk of developing certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases may be higher in people who live in northern climates and may be related to lower general levels of vitamin D. So, moderation should not mean none.
People with fair skin typically get a sunburn more quickly than those with darker skin. Also, you’re 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. The good news – https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun – is that getting your sun around midday (or whenever it is strongest in your location) means that you need less exposure time to get an optimal benefit.
According to the World Health Organization, getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face 2-3 times a week is enough to enjoy the vitamin D-boosting benefits of the sun. Note that the sun must penetrate the skin. Wearing sunscreen or protective clothing over your skin and lenses over your eyes will block production of vitamin D production.
If you’re going to be outside for more than 15 minutes (less if you have very fair skin, more if you have darker skin), it’s a good idea to protect your skin. You can do that by applying a DIY sunscreen in the form of a bar, lotion, or spray. Because of my concerns regarding some ingredients in commercial sunscreens and sun blocks, I recommend that you make your own protective products and consider clothing made from protective fabrics. If you do overdo your exposure, a DIY essential oil spray can soothe your skin and support recovery. Lastly, don’t forget to protect your hair.
Simple DIY Sunscreen
Add 5-10 drops total of one or more of the following essential oils (Helichrysum, Arborvitae, Sandalwood) to 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of fractionated coconut oil or other pure carrier oil and apply to the skin. You can use an empty regular or roller top amber glass bottle to store the mixture for on-the-go use. Be careful not to expose the bottle to direct sunlight or excessive temperatures.
Many citrus essential oils are photosensitive and should not be applied topically to areas of the skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight. If you do plan to apply such oils to areas that will be exposed, be sure to do so at least 12 hours in advance of the exposure. This only applies to topical application, not to diffusion or internal use.
Using tanning beds can greatly increase your chances of developing skin cancer. Tanning beds put out UVA light that is much more intense than what you receive outdoors because it does not work as efficiently as UVB light. UVA goes significantly deeper into the skin than UVB and not only causes skin cancer, but it causes more leathery, wrinkled skin.
Make it a practice to stand in front of a full-length mirror and use a magnifying glass to see any white, pink, or dark spots on your skin. If you discover any and they appear to be raised, irregularly shaped, or growing – or if you have any other concerns – consult a dermatologist.
Exposure to sunlight can help brain function, which can improve the nervous system, hormonal regulation, muscle function, immune health, and offers many other benefits. It is helpful to allow your eyes to be exposed directly to sunlight. Wear a hat with a good visor for prolonged exposure but try to avoid anything that blocks the sun completely or causes your pupils to dilate or contract artificially.
Because excess sun exposure is linked with increased skin cancer risk, don’t stay outside too long without skin protection.
Go sing (dance, walk, garden, play, swim, exercise, picnic…) in the sunshine!
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