Remember sun worshipers? Not literal worshiping of the sun, but people who were just too tan. It was always a dream of mine, as a pale gal, to have that bronzed look. Next, skin cancer scares really kept all of us out of the sun and indoors. What is the truth about sun exposure? How much is too much? As a doctor, I get this question often and with all this heat, it has been on my mind.
Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all had designed measures, such as sun gardens, to strengthen the body with the suns rays. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, built a large solarium to heal people with suns rays. Olympic athletes were to train in the sun to increase muscle strength. Many of these ancient cultures had sun gods, indicating the importance the sun played in their lives.
Recent research has shown health benefits of sun exposure actually outweigh the risk of sun cancer. I am not advocating all day beach baking. Sunlight causes the body to make Vitamin D, an essential vitamin. In fact, sunlight is the most easily metabolized way to get Vitamin D. The Institute for Cancer Research found that moderate sun exposure pays in big dividends for Vitamin D benefits. Sunlight has been shown helpful in reducing cancer, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis and bone disease. It improves heart function, kidney function, bone health, digestion and liver functions.
If you don’t get enough sun, it can effect even your thinking. Americans spend over $11 billion on antidepressants each year. Although lack of sun exposure is not a sole cause of depression, natural therapies, such as sun exposure, are extremely effective. The depression and lack of sunlight are directly proportional. Five minutes of morning sun, when you wake up, will set your circadian rhythms, helping your sleep pattern, too. Get a minimum of fifteen minutes each day.
The health of sunlight is only effective if you do not burn. Sunburn is always damaging. Still, I am not a fan of sun screens. Most contain harmful metals that you rub into your skin. Not to mention some research that has not been verified in humans, but rats, have been shown to have thyroid issues from some of the chemicals in sunscreen. Knowing your limits is the best measure for a balance between protection and benefit. The National Academy of Sciences recommends daily exposure for half the time it would take you to burn. The best protection is to wear light-colored clothes.
Factors in figuring out your best exposure are based on skin tone, age, body mass and distance from the equator. The darker your skin, the more sun needed to lower your risks of cancer. Also, as we age, we need longer sun exposure to produce adequate Vitamin D. Sunlight has also been given a poor reputation for causing people to prematurely age. Damage from burns, especially in teen years, can make a person look more weathered, but smoking, alcohol and stress take a much bigger toll on beauty.
Despite what you may hear about the ozone layer, get out in the sunshine. It is free and good for you. Sunlight is designed by a loving God. Do not be afraid to enjoy the sun.