Research & Education

Sun Worshipping: the Health Benefits of Sunshine

While we all know that vegetation needs sunshine to grow and that sunshine warms us and the world so that life is possible sunshine and health are more closely linked than we may have previously thought. Over the past few years however we have been warned of the dangers of sunshine especially in regards to the rising risk of skin cancer. But those warnings need to be balanced with the considerable advantages of getting sufficient sunshine which when done correctly may actually have more benefits than risks.

The neurotransmitter connection

The skin is actually a sort of neuroendocrine gland as sunshine exposure stimulates skin production of most neurotransmitters including serotonin a key compound involved in cognition regulation of feeding behavior mood anxiety aggression and pain sexual activity sleep and seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Also melatonin a hormone most notably synthesized in the pineal gland and most importantly associated in the areas of regulation and the modulation of circadian rhythm is produced in the skin.  The brain's production of serotonin is affected by sunlight exposure as well while sunlight also affects both serotonin and dopamine transporter binding activity.

While it appears quite clear that sunlight exposure positively affects those individuals who may be prone to depression cognitive ability can also be adversely affected in all individuals who experience suboptimal levels of sunshine.

The sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D as we all know is also produced in the skin through UV light exposure and as time goes on there appears to be a strong connection between low serum vitamin D levels and the development of autoimmunity in its various forms. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the scientific literature is replete with studies connecting sunlight exposure and autoimmune conditions as well as the development of other diseases including cancer. On the other hand increasing vitamin D and sun exposure has been shown to decrease global mortality rates according to one study.

Potential downsides of too little sunlight

A higher incidence of developing multiple sclerosis is associated with geographic locations that are less exposed to the sun's UV radiation compared to those regions which receive more optimal levels. Pregnant moms who have limited exposure to the sun may have offspring with a greater chance of developing MS as well.

The development of many forms of cancer appears to be heavily influenced by sunlight exposure.

Of course excessive sunlight can present its own types of problems. Simply from an aesthetic perspective when exposed to sun for long hours at a time unprotected skin can age prematurely. However by eating a diet high in fruits vegetables and if needed supplementing with additional antioxidants and healthy oils you will be receiving optimal levels of nutrients that will help prevent the formation of UV-generated skin damaging free radicals.

While sun exposure has been pretty much vilified it is very clear that moderate doses can offer health benefits that we tend to overlook much to our possible detriment.

by Michael Fuhrman D.C.