Woman's face in the sunshine

Is there a better feeling than the warmth of the sun’s rays gliding across your skin… than waking up to the bright, shining sun and chirping birds? The association between sunny days and happiness are abundant and prevalent, but they also have a true, scientific basis. Furthermore, sunlight is a powerful moderator of health. Read on to find out how you can use sunshine as a health tool.

Health Benefits of Sunshine

Vitamin D

We all know that plants are photosynthetic organisms that can use sunlight to produce new molecules, but so can humans! Our bodies harness energy from sunlight’s photons to fuel the biochemical reaction in our cells that produces vitamin D3. As we all know, D3 is an essential player in regulating mental health, bone health, neuromuscular health and metabolism, as well as many other processes (1).

For example, low Vitamin D serum levels are on the list of conditions that predict poor COVID-19 outcomes. What’s more, vitamin D3 deficiency (low serum levels of 25 (OH)D) is highly associated with the risk of autoimmunity and is prevalent in multiple autoimmune diseases. Thus, vitamin D has been implicated in prevention and protection from autoimmune diseases (4).

Endorphins

Sunlight is incredibly powerful in improving and regulating mood. One way the sun affects our mental health is through endorphins, our bodies’ natural opiates and “happy molecules.” Exposure to sunlight increases endorphin release, instantly boosting mood (1).  Check out our other tips for improving mood here!

Serotonin

Another way in which sunlight lifts mood is through serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that helps regulate positive mood. Sunlight exposure helps maintain healthy levels of serotonin and boost your mood. On the other hand, a lack of sunlight can result in dips in serotonin levels and lead to poor mental health (2). Check out useful digital tools you can use to bring your mood back up!

Excessive Exposure

With such far-reaching benefits, we should jump straight into the closest puddle of sunlight. However, zealous use of sunshine as a health tool should be avoided, as excessive sunlight exposure can in fact cause harm. The sun’s rays include ultraviolet energy (especially UV-C) that can damage our health instead of helping it if we do not properly protect ourselves. For examples, in addition to the familiar sunburn, too much sunlight can damage our eyes (cataracts), lead to heat exhaustion (even heat stroke in extreme cases) and, with long-term unprotected exposure, may cause skin cancer (3)

Luckily, we can take precautions to help us enjoy the sun safely. First, protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses in direct sunlight. Use a hat or cap to shade your head to protect eyes, facial skin and forestall heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Furthermore, to protect your skin from sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer, always wear sunscreen or sun-shading clothing!

We know that these past few months have been troubling and trying for most of us, and preventative stay-at-home practices and transitions to working from home have encouraged endless hours indoors. Nevertheless, we hope this post helps you find some comfort and excitement by stepping into a ray of sunlight! 

Stay happy and healthy!

Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Ishita Dubey, BS, Ellen M. Martin. Artwork by Andrea Grigsby.

Sources

  1. Nathaniel Mead M. Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(4):A160–A167.
  2. Nall, R. (2018, November 28). What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight
  3. Clinic, U. (2019, July 16). 13 Ways the Sun Affects Your Body: The Good & The Bad. https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=9a64f6ba-8855-44dd-82d7-fe32b00f4e06
  4. Yang CY, Leung PS, Adamopoulos IE, Gershwin ME. The implication of vitamin D and autoimmunity: a comprehensive review. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2013;45(2):217-226. doi:10.1007/s12016-013-8361-3

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