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What Are The Health Benefits Of Sunlight?

A moderate exposure to sunlight reduces your risk of stroke, autoimmune diseases and at the same time boosts the vit. D intake which is essential for optimal bone health. It also triggers the release of hormones in your brain. The serotinin hormone helps uplift your mood and prevent seasonal affective disorder, while melatonin regulates the body's sleep-wake cycle.

The sun is central to our very existence. This singular star and, more specifically, the energy we receive as sunlight influence our daily rhythms, weather, and the seasons. Sunlight is also used by plants to produce food, not just for themselves but for the entire food chain. So what could be the benefits of direct exposure to this life-giving energy?

Vitamin D And Its Multiple Benefits

Our body requirements of vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” are usually met by casual exposure to sunlight.1 The importance of this vitamin was first acknowledged during the Industrial Revolution in northern Europe. Children living in cities where sunlight could not penetrate through the polluted atmosphere showed retarded growth and developed skeletal deformities.2 Later studies revealed the extensive benefits of this wonder vitamin – it is required for overall well-being and especially for optimal bone health and muscle strength. It also helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and a host of diseases.3

Sunlight And Sleep: Wake Cycles

Melatonin, a hormone produced in the body during the night, controls the body’s sleep and wake cycles. This hormone also acts as an antioxidant4 and helps fight infectious diseases, inflammation, and cancer, while counteracting immunodeficiencies and UVR-induced skin damage. The production of this hormone is strongly linked to optical exposure to morning sunlight and varies with the seasons.5

Sunshine And Happiness

As the numerous happy songs on sunshine vouch, sunlight is often associated with happiness in popular culture. Science also seems to back this connection. The production of the hormone serotonin, responsible for overall well-being and happiness, is influenced by sunlight. This neurotransmitter plays an important part in functions such as mood balance, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire.6 Studies show that serotonin levels are directly related to the duration of bright sunlight and vary with seasons. They are also an important factor in seasonal affective disorder.7

Other Positive Effects Of Sunlight

A growing body of research shows that sunlight can independently affect other physiological functions.

Sunlight helps prevent autoimmune diseases, reduces melanoma risk, and promotes healing of skin disorders like psoriasis.8

Exposure to sunlight aids in the production of nitric oxide, which reduces blood pressure and thus the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.9

Sunlight affects the behavior of our genes and reduces their inflammatory responses.10 Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Too Much Or Too Little: Striking The Right Balance

In recent times, the adverse effects of sunlight have taken center stage, especially in relation to skin cancer and photo-aging. Given the numerous positive effects of sunlight, is it possible that the benefits outweigh the risks? Many scientists seem to think so. As Grant et al. state in their research paper, “sunshine is good medicine.”11 A Swedish study even showed that avoiding the sun is as risky as smoking in all causes of mortality.12

Lengthy exposure to sunlight, however, can raise health risks without increasing the benefits. To minimize these risks, avoid sunburn and excess exposure to UVR. You should also increase antioxidant intake and limit fat consumption.13 Factors such as skin color, length of exposure, and geographic location also play a role here. Sun protection is recommended when the UV Index is more than 3. UV Index forecasts for any location in the US can be obtained through the Environmental Protection Agency’s SunWise website.

Sunbathing: What Does Ayurveda Say?

Ayurveda endorses the therapeutic power of sunlight and its ability to improve circulation and cleanse the body by inducing sweating. However, moderation is the key as overexposure can damage the skin. Half an hour of full exposure before noon is recommended. If your kapha is high, you can even consider one hour of sunbathing.14

References   [ + ]

1. Nair, Rathish, and Arun Maseeh. “Vitamin D: The” sunshine” vitamin.” Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics 3, no. 2 (2012): 118.
2. Holick, Michael F. “Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease.”The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition 80, no. 6 (2004): 1678S-1688S
3. Grant, William B., and Michael F. Holick. “Benefits and requirements of vitamin D for optimal health: a review.” Altern Med Rev 10, no. 2 (2005): 94-111.
4. Poeggeler, Burkhard, Russel J. Reiter, Dun‐Xian Tan, Li‐Dun Chen, and Lucien C. Manchester. “Melatonin, hydroxyl radical‐mediated oxidative damage, and aging: A hypothesis.” Journal of Pineal Research 14, no. 4 (1993): 151-168.
5, 8. Mead, M. Nathaniel. “Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health.” Environmental health perspectives 116, no. 4 (2008): A160.
6. Serotonin, University of Bristol.
7. Lambert, G. W., Christopher Reid, D. M. Kaye, G. L. Jennings, and M. D. Esler. “Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain.”The Lancet 360, no. 9348 (2002): 1840-1842.
9. Sunshine Could Benefit Health, University of Edinburgh.
10. Zasloff, Michael. “Sunlight, vitamin D, and the innate immune defenses of the human skin.”Journal of Investigative Dermatology 125, no. 5 (2005): xvi-xvii.
11, 13. Grant, W. B., Strange, R. C., & Garland, C. F. (2003). Sunshine is good medicine. The health benefits of ultraviolet‐B induced vitamin D production. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 2(2), 86-98.
12. Lindqvist, P. G., E. Epstein, K. Nielsen, M. Landin‐Olsson, C. Ingvar, and H. Olsson. “Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: a competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort.”Journal of internal medicine (2016).
14. Sachs, Melanie. Ayurvedic beauty care: ageless techniques to invoke natural beauty. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2002.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.