SUNLIGHT - It's Amazing Effects on Physiology

Matt DeBow © 2007

The revolutionary Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton was the first to conceive monotheism. He believed there was only one god, the sun. Akhenaton thought that the sun had a powerful connection to life and nurtured our health. The sun has been the inspiration of many cultures, it is the most important element of our evolution and survival, we cannot live without it. It seems that the powerful healing and antibacterial properties of sunlight have been forgotten. For thousands of years humans have led an agricultural economy, most of us working outdoors. Now over 80 percent of the workforce is indoors.

For millions of years humans lived and evolved outdoors. Sun exposure has received bad press, it has recently fallen out of favor, its healing powers being ignored or forgotten. In the beginning of the 20th century people were treated for a number of ailments with the sun. During world war one military surgeons used sunlight to disinfect and heal wounds. At the turn of the century Neils Finsen a Danish physician was successfully treating tuberculosis with ultraviolet light. During the early 1930s people were encouraged to sunbath as a public health measure. The sun was used as a disease preventative as well as a curative. Architects began to design sunlit buildings and hospitals integrating solar ideals. Hospitals developed with this intention installed special glass to allow maximum ultraviolet radiation through. With the development of antibiotics the medicinal and hygienic properties of sunlight were considered unimportant.

Sunlight is capable of killing bacteria even after passing through glass. There is evidence that patients in well sunlit wards recover faster than there counterparts in room with little or no natural light. Hospitals that are not well illuminated by the sun have an increased bacteria level, which has become the industry norm. Infections caught in hospitals are the fourth leading cause of death after heart disease, cancer and stroke. There is now a direct connection between sunlight and the reduction of the likeliness of fatal diseases and cancer. Daily exposure to natural sunlight seems to be a much bigger part of our health than any of has been led to believe. People seem to be preoccupied with the belief that solar radiation is bad. Most of the sun’s harmful radiation is filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere.

What is known to us as “vitamin D” is actuality not a vitamin at all, but a naturally occurring hormone that is activated by sunlight penetrating skin. As we know, nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals help people maintain proper health. Sunlight is also a critical part of our diet. Vitamin D (7-dehydrocholestrol hormone) helps with bone growth and density is now known to affect many other biological and physiological factors that are just beginning to be understood. The sunlight activates a 72 hour multi biochemical process beginning with 7-dehydrocholestrol, then ending up in the liver as dihydroxuyctimin referred to as “soltrol”. Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the body controlling growth, reproduction and many other systemic functions. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight activates the release of this important hormone into the body. This hormone is stored in body to carry us through the winter months. The human organism has to get enough summer sun exposure to last though the entire winter. The body makes optimum use of this hormone when it is naturally derived from the sun. It helps regulate the balance of calcium and phosphorous necessary for bone formation and remodeling, increasing the body’s ability to absorb magnesium. When vitamin D levels are low the body cannot absorb enough calcium to stay healthy, no matter the amount ingested. Calcium is essential for DNA synthesis, a healthy immune system, teeth and bone growth and maintenance. People who use sun block can inhibit hormonal synthesis needed for their body. It seems as if the body responds better to sunlight if it is not trying to cool itself down. Sunbathing in morning, evening or on cool days seem to get the best biological response.

There is scientific evidence that points to vitamin D as being a crucial factor in helping prevent a number of diseases. People who reside in cities close to the equator have much lower incidence of cancer, melanoma included. The only cancer that can be blamed on the sun as its procuring cause is basil cell carcinoma, when properly treated is over 90 percent successful. Minimal bodily exposure to direct sunlight is the probable cause in the rise of cancer according to research. It has become evident that sunlight could help prevent several medical problems including: osteoporoses, heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, multi sclerosis and other aliments. Sunlight can have beneficial effects on a number of skin disorders as well; psoriasis, acne, eczema, mycosis and other bacterial or fungicidal infections. Ultraviolet light has also shown to help alleviate atherosclerosis (hardening of the arties).

It has been discovered that ultraviolet radiation is also an integral part in the body’s cholesterol breakdown process. Sunlight exposure can have a significant effect at reducing bad cholesterol levels in the body. Cholesterol levels have been seen to rise in the winter, and the rise becomes significantly more noticeable the farther people are from the equator. A 1935 study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that ultraviolet radiation reduced blood pressure in over 60 percent of people suffering from hypertension. Even a single exposure to sunlight will lower blood pressure. During the winter months when solar radiation is at it lowest peoples blood pressure is at its highest. Seasonal changes are clearly associated with blood pressure. There is a clear rise in blood pressure the farther a person resides from the equator. A 1997 article published in the journal Hypertension explained why people with darker complexion living away from the equator stuffer higher incidence of hypertension than their counter parts with lighter complexion. In summary, individuals with dark complexion require significantly more sunlight to photosynthesize vitamin D as to a person with light complexion. It is estimated that nearly 100 million people suffer from high blood pressure costing health care system billions annually.

The literature on sunbathing is an area of contradiction; some studies promote its benefits, while others stress its dangers. Paradoxically, sunlight is essential to our health, although it accelerates aging of the skin, can lead to cataracts and trigger skin cancer in susceptible individuals. The exact amount of vitamin D for optimum health has not been accurately determined, by default the amount of sun exposure to reach that level is not clearly defined either. As far as measurable units of the synthetic laboratory made vitamin D it is believed that adults up to 50 years of age need 200 IU per day (international units) increasing to 400 IU from 51 to 70 years. Laboratory produced synthetic vitamin D supplements can be toxic at high levels. Some researchers believe that synthetic vitamin D should be removed from milk because of the risk of toxicity. High doses of laboratory developed vitamin D can result in calcium deposits in the blood vessel, kidneys and other organs, and in some cases lead to coma and even death.

The suns natural rays deliver approximately 100,000 lux. An overcast or rainy day will emit between 900 to 1200 lux, which can lead to season affected disorder (SAD). Commercial building artificial light ranges from 300 to 400 lux, wherein a common living room is 50 to 100 lux. This is not nearly enough to synthesize vitamin D. Low lux artificial light affects biology in two ways; 1) the lacking of vitamin D synthesis, 2) it confuses the endocrine system. The biology of the brain cannot determine if it is night or day because of weak light. Thus activating the release of serotonin and melatonin simultaneously which has never before occurred for extended periods of time in human evolution. The combination of these improper biological functions could lead to long term physiological problems. It seems as if SAD could just an indicator to a much bigger underlying problem indicated by a neuro-hormonal response that make people feel sluggish and depressed. Doing 10,000 lux artificial light doses might be a symptomatic approach to relieve depression, but not a cure for the underlining problem.

Currently there is very little research determining how our food intake effects our skins reaction to the sun. Diet, medications and some supplements do have an effect on the outcome on sunbathing. Some antibiotics induce light sensitivity increasing a person’s chance to an adverse solar reaction. Sunlight increases oxygen content in the blood and speeds up the rate of toxin elimination. Research suggests that regular exposure to sunlight in infancy and early childhood reduces the risks of diseases later in life. An interesting fact discovered at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Human Biology is that children born in the spring tended to be taller at adulthood than their counterparts born in autumn. The fastest growth period is three month before birth and three month after. Researchers believe that sunlight exposure during this period is important, possibility activating an abundant release of human growth hormone. More scientific research is warranted on topic of natural light. I admire the few such as Jon Ott and Richard Hobday who have written books on this misrepresented subject in an attempt to set the record straight. I can only hope this article will bring a few out of the dark.

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