In our modern world, sun avoidance and fear of its potential harms have led many to underestimate the incredible health benefits that sunlight provides. Unfortunately, as result of national guidelines in many countries over the past 30–40 years advising strict restriction of sun exposure, we have developed a kind of “sun phobia”.
Sunlight: Nature’s Vital Nutrient
It’s time to shift our perspective and acknowledge sunlight as a nutrient essential for good health. Sunlight is far more than just warmth and illumination; it’s a source of life-sustaining energy. When exposed appropriately, sunlight offers a myriad of benefits that support both physical and mental health. Let’s delve into the diverse frequencies of sunlight and how they contribute to our well-being.
The Sun’s Diverse Spectrum
The sun emits a wide range of light frequencies, including ultraviolet (UV) radiation, visible light (which includes the colors of the rainbow and red light), and infrared (IR) radiation. If you remember high school physics, when you pass white light through a prism it separates out the different colors based on their wavelengths (ROYGBIV). Only a tiny part of this spectrum (roughly 400nm to 700nm) is actually visible to the human eye.
Each of the sun’s frequencies, visible or not, has unique benefits to our health.
UVB Rays: Vitamin D Synthesis and Beyond
UVB radiation from the sun plays a crucial role in our body’s production of vitamin D. This critical nutrient has numerous health benefits, including:
- Essential for our bodies to produce vitamin D.
- Strengthening bones by aiding calcium absorption
- Supporting immune function by boosting the immune system’s ability to fend off infections
- Reducing inflammation and chronic diseases
- Elevating mood and reducing symptoms of depression
- Supporting hormone production and cell membrane health
Blue Spectrum Sunlight: The Energy for Life
Blue light from the sun is crucial for regulating our circadian rhythms, mood and overall vitality. It plays a pivotal role in:
- Regulating sleep-wake cycles and promoting healthy sleep patterns
- Boosting mood and reducing symptoms of depression
- Stimulating the production of serotonin, the “happy neurotransmitter” that affects mood, appetite, sleep, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.
- Enhancing cognitive function and alertness
- Stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine and inhibits the sleep hormone melatonin, enhancing alertness and mental clarity.
Most wavelengths of light (UV, blue, green, yellow, etc.) are unable to penetrate into the body – instead they stay in the layers of the skin. However, as the picture below shows, red and near-infrared light are able to penetrate deeper into the human body.
Red and Infrared (IR) Spectrum: Anti-Inflammatory Allies and Cellular Healing
Sunlight in the red and infrared spectrum, in the form of near-infrared (NIR) and far-infrared (FIR), have potent anti-inflammatory effects and can penetrate the skin, going deep into the cells, tissues, blood, nerves, bones and even into the brain! These frequencies have many therapeutic effects and are known to:
- Promote cellular repair and regeneration
- Accelerate wound healing and tissue recovery
- Relieve muscle and joint pain, reduce muscle soreness
- Enhance circulation and detoxification
- Increase energy levels by promoting the production of energy (ATP) within our cells
- Improves physical performance, muscle recovery and sleep
- Support skin health and reduce the appearance of wrinkles
Far-Infrared Spectrum: The Sauna Experience
Far-infrared radiation has therapeutic properties and is harnessed in far-infrared saunas. This practice offers numerous benefits, including:
- Inducing heat shock proteins, which aid cellular repair and have been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and support cardiovascular and hormone health
- Easing symptoms of depression and boosting mood
- Promoting detoxification by increasing sweating
- Enhancing cardiovascular health and circulation
In our modern lives, where we are usually fully clothed and indoors for most of the day, we do not get enough exposure on our bodies to these therapeutic sun frequencies or ‘nutrients’. Most of us are deficient in sunlight nutrients!! We aren’t always able to get outside, and if we lived somewhere like Canada or the UK, sunlight can be limited, especially during the winter months. The good news is, in addition to getting more sun exposure, there are now devices that emit these beneficial frequencies. This new technology can profoundly support our health, and it’s what I used to help recover from my chronic illnesses, and even reversed my osteoarthritis. IR sauna and red/ NIR light therapy were both essential for my recovery. If you are interested in learning more about these light devices, and the benefits of these and other light therapies, go to my blog on Embrace the Healing Spectrum: harnessing the power of light therapy and my services page if you would like to rent a red light. If you are interested in purchasing a red/NIR light device, see what brands I recommend and my discount codes.
Dispelling Sunlight Myths
Misconceptions about sunlight have led to excessive sun avoidance and the use of sunscreen, which may block the beneficial effects of sunlight. While it’s essential to take precautions, such as preventing sunburn, it’s equally crucial to recognize that moderate sun exposure is not only safe but also essential for health and longevity.
Not Enough Sun Exposure May Be More Harmful Than Too Much
New emerging data have shown low UV exposure/low vitamin D levels to be related to increased mortality rate. Nearly 20 types of cancer have been found to be inversely correlated with solar UVB irradiance suggesting sun exposure reduces the risk of many internal cancers. The likely mechanism is production of Vitamin D. In addition, low sun exposure habits in regions of low solar intensity have been shown to be a major risk factor for all-cause mortality similar to that for smoking.
A Swedish study followed 38,000 women for 15 years and found that active sun exposure was associated with reduced risk of both cardiovascular and overall death. In another study, following the sun exposure habits of 30,000 Swedish women for 20 years, researchers found that the women with active sun exposure habits were estimated to have a 1- to 2-year longer life-expectancy. In addition, the women with normal sun exposure habits did not have increased risk for malignant melanoma or melanoma-related death.
These studies suggest that beneficial sun exposure increases health and longevity, and that lack of sun exposure increases the risk of chronic disease and death. This is in line with what we can expect from an evolutionary perspective but is in opposition to present guidelines. So, this raises the question, in addition to what we have already discussed, why is sun exposure so beneficial.
- Vitamin D production – a major predisposing factor in at least 17 varieties of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, birth defects, infectious disease and more.
- Blood pressure (BP) – Research hasshown BP to be consistently lower in the summer, and that the prevalence of hypertension and increasing blood pressure is directly correlated with an increase in latitude (less sunlight). Studies have shown that increasing sun exposure is associated with a dose-dependent reduced risk of hypertension and leads to fewer deaths of cardiovascular disease.
- Immune Function – sunlight can regulate immune function and reduce inflammation. Studies have shown that the more hours of sun there are where you live or were born, the lower the risk of developing diseases like multiple sclerosis and Crohns disease.
How To Embrace Sunlight Wisely
We never want to over-do sun exposure and burn our skin, but to receive the many health benefits of sunlight, we do want to expose our bodies regularly in a safe way. To make the most of sunlight as a nutrient, consider these guidelines:
- Spend time outdoors during non-peak sun hours to enjoy the benefits without excessive UV exposure.
- Allow sunlight to reach your skin without sunscreen for a brief period each day, gradually increasing exposure time, tan gradually without burning.
- Be mindful of your unique skin type and adapt your sun exposure accordingly.
- If you have fair skin, don’t allow your skin to turn pink, this could be as little as 10 minutes exposure for those with very fair skin.
- If you have dark skin, you may need up to two hours per day to generate the same amount of vitamin D (which is why supplementation may be necessary for those with darker skin).
- Never burn yourself in the sun.
- If you’re going to be exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period or/and are at high altitude, cover up with light clothing, a hat, use an umbrella, and/or use a safe sunscreen.
- Incorporate natural light into your daily routine, both indoors and outdoors.
- Pay attention to the time of day, latitude and season, and vary your exposure accordingly. You need less sun exposure at mid-day during the summer near the equator than in the late afternoon during the winter in Vancouver, Canada.
- Choose a sunscreen wisely, as most commercial sunscreens are not safe, and have a slew of chemical ingredients such as fragrances, parabens, chemical solvents and petroleum oils that are often endocrine disruptors and can contribute to health issues when used regularly.
- Take astaxanthin, a supplement that is protective against UV-induced skin deterioration (aka sunburn) and helps maintain healthy skin. Astaxanthin is a red carotenoid found in shrimp, crab, salmon and microalgae that exerts a strong anti-oxidative activity by scavenging free radicals and reducing inflammation. See my article on my favourite supplements and if you are interested to try it, go to my Supplement stores to purchase here.
Personally, once I have had an adequate amount of sun exposure, I choose to cover up, wear a hat and take a supplement called astaxanthin that protects my skin from burning, but also has many other anti-inflammatory benefits.
In conclusion, sunlight is not our enemy but is vital in the pursuit of good health. By understanding and respecting the different frequencies of sunlight, we can harness its nourishing power to promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Sunlight, when used appropriately, is a nutrient that should not be overlooked on our path to vibrant health. As a holistic nutritionist and lifestyle wellness coach, I educate my clients about the importance of sunlight as a nutrient and help them make informed choices about sun exposure. I encourage them to embrace the sun wisely and incorporate it into their holistic health journey. If you are interested in learning more, and about how to implement this into your life, consider working with me. Please visit my services page for more information.
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Lindqvist PG, Landin-Olsson M, Olsson H. Low sun exposure habits is associated with a dose-dependent increased risk of hypertension: a report from the large MISS cohort. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2021 Feb;20(2):285-292. doi: 10.1007/s43630-021-00017-x. Epub 2021 Feb 18. PMID: 33721253.
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