Better Call Sol
By Ann Constantino,
Published in the Humboldt Independent on December 29, 2020
By the time you read this, the winter solstice of 2020 will have passed, yet the daily increasing light goes on for another 6 months and more sunlight is not only welcome at the end of a dark season, it offers numerous health benefits that make getting out into the increasing light a big plus.
It was the 19th-century pioneer of nursing, Florence Nightingale, who first realized that relocating hospital patients away from dimly lit wards to sunny open windows and even outside whenever possible had many positive overall effects on healing. Access to sunlight became a part of her famous Nightingale’s Canon that has survived as a foundational document for modern nursing.
Now in the 21st-century science has been able to figure out exactly how sunlight contributes to health and healing, validating Nightingale’s observations.
About 15-30 minutes a day of exposure to sunlight provides all the vitamin D a person needs to convey health benefits.
About 15-30 minutes a day of exposure to sunlight provides all the vitamin D a person needs to convey health benefits to the immune system, to bone density, and to the prevention of a variety of diseases including many forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, even depression.
In addition, a study published in September 2020 shows that sufficient blood levels of vitamin D correlate to a reduced risk of contracting COVID-19. Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University School of Medicine published the results of his study in the peer-reviewed Public Library of Science One. His study found that of the 190,000 cases reviewed, patients with inadequate Vitamin D levels were 54% more likely to contract Covid-19.
Furthermore, the vitamin is believed to suppress the cytokine storm that occurs in the disease when the immune system begins to turn on itself, a phenomenon associated with poorer outcomes of treatment.
Improved Sleep. The body uses a hormone called melatonin to tell us when it’s time to go to bed. Melatonin levels start to increase after dark and are responsible for sleepiness. An hour of natural sunlight in the morning has been shown to maintain a natural circadian rhythm which keeps your melatonin levels functioning for optimal sleep patterns.
Stress Reduction. Adequate melatonin levels are also associated with reduced stress reactivity.
Mood Elevation. Sunlight increases serotonin levels in the blood. Chronic low levels of this neurotransmitter can lead to anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, and sleep issues. Adequate sunshine can improve your mood and keep you calm and focused.
Lower Blood Pressure. Researchers discovered last year that the chemical nitric oxide, which is stored in the skin, reacts to sunlight leading to a widening of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure significantly in those suffering from hypertension. The study went on to propose that further research is needed to determine if the common use of sun-blocks might actually be increasing our risk for cardio-vascular disease.
Too much sun
Too much sun in the eyes can damage vision, although moderate amounts of sunlight have been shown to improve distance vision.
With all of these benefits, it’s important to remember there is such a thing as too much sun, especially for the eyes and the skin. When mad dogs and Englishmen are out, it’s wise to use sunscreen as too much UV light will damage the skin and lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Too much sun in the eyes can damage vision, although moderate amounts of sunlight have been shown to improve distance vision. Again, it’s intensity and time of day that encourage prudence.
Fairer skinned people need less sun exposure than darker skinned people to reap the benefits of natural light. Your healthcare provider can assist in determining what is best for you. Somewhere between 15 and 60 minutes of exposure will likely give you plenty of vitamin D, increase your serotonin levels, open your blood vessels, and regulate your melatonin levels. Sunlight taken in the winter or in the early morning is less likely to do damage because of the indirect angle of the sun’s rays.
Take time to bask for an hour or so every winter morning you are able. You won’t need science to simply feel the rejuvenating blessings of light and warmth as our northern hemisphere begins tilting back toward Sol while we continue our stint as passengers on the third rock.
“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”
Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.