This time of year, everyone wants to be outside. It feels so good to have the warm sun on our bare skin. If you haven't heard that being out in the sun, unprotected by sunscreen, puts you at risk for wrinkles, at best, and skin cancer, at worst, then you've probably been living under a rock!
However, while most people are aware of the dangers of too much sun, many don't realize that sunlight confers enormous health benefits as well. Keeping in mind that you need to protect your skin with a high-quality sunscreen when you go outdoors, let's look at some of the surprising benefits of sunlight.
Sunlight may help prevent cancer.
It's not just plants that metabolize sunlight. Humans do too. Through a complex process, our bodies turn sunlight into life-giving vitamin D. The connection between vitamin D deficiency and cancer was first made by Drs. Frank and Cedric Garland from the University of California, San Diego. After finding that the incidence of colon cancer was nearly three times higher in New York than in New Mexico, the Garland brothers hypothesized that lack of sun exposure, resulting in a vitamin D deficiency, played a role. Research now indicates that being deficient in vitamin D increases the risk of many cancers, especially breast and colon. For example, a four-year, placebo-controlled study involving 1,179 postmenopausal women concluded that vitamin D supplementation produced a dramatic 60% drop in the risk of developing any form of cancer.
Sunlight is beneficial for Alzheimer's patients.
Clinical research has shown that exposure to full-spectrum light throughout the day coupled with darkness at night can help improve some aspects of Alzheimer's disease-reducing agitation, increasing sleep efficiency, decreasing nighttime wakefulness, and decreasing nighttime activity in these patients.
Sunlight may lower risk for multiple sclerosis.
MS is more common in populations that live farther from the equator. People who move from a low-risk area to a high-risk area before the age of 15 acquire a higher risk of developing MS, whereas those who make the same move after adolescence retain a lower risk. These observations suggest that environmental exposure, and in particular, early sunlight exposure (which is correlated with vitamin D levels) in the first two decades of life, influences the risk of developing MS. Related to this finding, several European population studies observed that there is a lower risk of MS for births occurring after October and a higher risk for MS for births occurring after May. This suggests that maternal levels of vitamin D during the third trimester of pregnancy may influence risk of MS.