Sunlight ---Top 10 Health Benefits
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March 3, 2013, last updated January 21, 2014
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist

Remember that advice we've all been getting to avoid the sun? That
advice may be wrong. Or at least it may be overblown. We’re told to
stay out of the sun from 10am to 4pm, cover up, slap on sunscreen and
wear a hat – too much sun can cause skin cancer. But can too little sun
also harm our health? We are increasingly learning that we
need direct
sunlight to improve and maintain good health.

In fact, studies are now finding that we need sun to recover faster
from serious illness. For example, a 2011 study lead by Dr. Richard
Castro of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center advocates that
hospitals be designed to increase the amount of sun critically ill patients
get in order to enhance their recovery.  Have we got it all wrong about
sunlight? Should we indulge our sun-worshipping tendencies and bask
in the rays?  Maybe it's not just plants that need the sun. Do we
humans need the sun to live healthy lives?

Health Benefits of Sunlight

While sunlight is proven to age the skin, cause wrinkles and possibly
cause skin cancer there is evidence to promote a move away from a
blanket sunlight ban. For example, although excessive exposure to
sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer, continued exposure to the sun
was linked with increased survival rates in people with early-stage
melanoma, according to 2005 research by the University of New Mexico.

What is clear is that you're never going to get the Vitamin D you need
without the sun.  Lack of sunlight results in a vitamin D deficiency – we
get 90 percent of our vitamin D reserves from sunshine.

Very little vitamin D comes from food and a deficiency often occurs in
the elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people who live in
northern latitudes and don’t drink vitamin D-enriched milk (RD Utiger ”
The need for more vitamin D” in the New England Journal of Medicine,
1998 and FM Gloth “Vitamin D deficiency in older people” in the Journal
of the American Geriatrics Society, 1995.) Vitamin D deficiency causes
rickets, and increases the risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis and
even some forms of cancer, according to a 2001 study from the
University of Kansas School of Medicine. Sunshine is also linked with
reductions in levels of depression, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and

How Much Sunlight is Enough?

It depends who you ask. And it depends on when you get your sun
and whether you wear sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks your skin’s ability
to create vitamin D because it is the burning UVB rays in sunlight that
allow the conversion – the SPF gets in the way of health benefits.

The National Osteoporosis Society UK and the British Association of
Dermatologists say we should get 15 to 20 minutes of mid-day sun
exposure every day without sunscreen. But this is advice for the UK,
where the sun is rarely very strong at midday. In Australia, redness
and the start of sunburn occurs within just eight minutes of exposure
to the sun at midday without any sunscreen.

Experts at the Cancer Council Western Australia and the Genomics
Directorate (2006) state that two to 14 minutes of mid-day summer
sun, three to four times a week in Australia provides the recommended
dose of vitamin D. In winter, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun
exposure before 10am or after 3pm, three or four times a week, will
provide enough vitamin D without as much skin damage.

Here in the US, someone living in Florida would need to spend three to
six minutes in the midday sun, at any time of the year, to synthesize
enough vitamin D while a Boston resident needs three to eight minutes
of midday sun in the summer – in the winter it is difficult to synthesize
any vitamin D from sunlight, according to a 2010 study by the Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

In a 2005 study from the Naval Submarine Medical Research
Laboratory, Groton, CT six days of sun exposure was enough to supply
vitamin D for 49 sunless days.
Note that these recommendations only apply to light-skinned people.
Darker skins need around six times more exposure to direct sunlight to
create the required levels of vitamin D.

Top 10 Health Benefits of Sunlight

Should we be viewing the sun in a different light? We’ve found
evidence of the ways in which sunlight can benefit our health and how
it can treat or prevent certain conditions and diseases.

Sunlight May Protect You From Prostate Cancer

It's a well known fact among scientists that Black men suffer from
higher rates of death from prostate cancer. In fact, according to the
American Cancer Society, "African Americans have the highest death
rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for
most cancers." Blacks have a 5/45% chance of dying from prostate
cancer, while white man have only a 2.62% chance of dying from
prostate cancer. The rate of death from prostate cancer is thus 69.8%
higher than the rate of death fro whites. What's going on?

Mortality rates from prostate cancer are significantly higher among
African American men than Caucasians, according to a 2005 study from
Wake Forest University, North Carolina, and are inversely linked to the
availability of UV radiation from the sun’s rays. In other words, the less
sunlight you get, the higher your chance of dying from prostate cancer.

What does this mean? Researchers have concluded that prostate cancer
may be caused,
in part,  by a deficiency in vitamin D and that because
darker skinned men absorb fewer beneficial UV rays,  this explains why
African American men are more likely to die from prostate cancer.

We say sunlight is only partly to blame for the discrepancy in death
rates because the answer to the puzzle of why Blacks are more likely to
die from prostate cancer is complex and likely relate to discrepancies in
access to quality health care, among other reasons.

But insofar as sunlight and Vitamin D are concerned, the remedy would
be to increase the amount of sunlight you get, especially if you are a
darker-skinned man living in the US, Canada or Europe where sunlight
is weaker than it is elsewhere on the planet.

Sunlight Can Help Lift Depression

Lack of sunlight, particularly in winter and fall, is commonly associated
with a particular form of depression called seasonal affective disorder
or SAD for short. But did you know sunlight could help sufferers of
other types of depression too?

A 2001 study from the University of Milan, School of Medicine, Italy
shows morning sunlight reduces the length of hospitalization in
patients with bipolar depression. Bipolar patients in rooms exposed to
direct sunlight in the mornings had a mean 3.67-day shorter stay than
patients in rooms where the sunlight didn’t reach. Scientists from the
University of Alberta, Canada also recorded similar results in a 1996
study that looked at how sunny hospital rooms resulted in a shorter
length of stay for depressed patients when compared with dull hospital

SAD is frequently treated with light boxes although outdoor light
exposure is cheaper and may be more effective. The time of day when
sunlight is taken may also be significant. According to a 1998 study
from Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland exposure to bright
light in the morning had more of an antidepressant effect that bright
light from 7 to 9pm. Researchers recommend that people suffering
from seasonal affective disorder get bright light immediately on waking
for the best results.

Sunlight Lowers Cortisol Levels

Continue reading  page 1    page 2

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