Sunlight and Health

Sunlight can has positive and negative affects on health. While we’re frequently warned by healthcare advocates that too much sun exposure can lead to some forms of skin cancer, the benefits of moderate sun exposure are only just coming to light. These include increases in naturally produced vitamin D as well as the effect of sunlight on mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In a time when everyone from the kid gamer to the student earning a PhD online to the average office worker is spending more hours indoors than in the past, understanding the health value of sunlight is crucial.

The effects of over-exposure to sunlight are well documented. Over-exposure can cause the following changes in skin:

* Precancerous and cancerous skin lesions caused by loss of the skin’s immune function;
* Benign tumors;
* Fine and coarse wrinkles;
* Freckles and discolored areas of the skin, called mottled pigmentation;
* Sallowness, a yellow discoloration of the skin;
* Dilation of small blood vessels under the skin;
* Destruction of the elastic tissue causing lines and wrinkles.

These effects can lead to disease, and the wrinkling, spots, and discolorations contribute to “sun aging.”

While too much sun can indeed do the body harm, no sun or getting too little can also produce ill effects. At its worst, lack of sun exposure can cause rickets, a disease characterized by bone deformation. This disease was especially prevalent in children during the industrial revolution, when many inner-city children worked long hours in factories and sunlight was occluded by a dense layer of smog. During early research into the cause of rickets, researchers discovered lack of sunlight was the culprit maiming many of the children in that era.

Later researched revealed the body’s production of vitamin D is dependent on receiving adequate sunshine. Vitamin D deficiency can result in children’s failure to fulfill their genetic growth potential. In adults, it can lead to osteoporosis and osteomalacia, which can cause painful aching, weakness, and brittleness in bones.

Another danger of receiving too little sunlight comes in the form of emotional health. Seasonal affective disorder is more common in certain populations, including:

* Those who reside in areas with winter days;
* Women;
* Those who have close relatives with SAD.

While experts haven’t definitively determined that lack of sunlight is the cause of seasonal affective disorder, they have noted a close correlation between reduced sun exposure and the disorder. Ongoing research projects are linking lack of sunlight with decreases in serotonin secretion in the brain, which may be at the root of the disease’s characteristic depression.

So how do we know how much sunlight exposure is healthy and safe? The average person should get about 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight each day without sunscreen. This small dose of UVB radiation is adequate to provide most people with a day’s worth of vitamin D production, without endangering the health of your skin. As the human lifespan increases with medical intervention, osteoporosis is much more common. Taking this small measure will help protect your bone health, may brighten your mood, and will help keep you healthy and more mobile throughout life.

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