Sun is a solar body that supports life on Earth and provides living creatures with multiple benefits. First and foremost, it is an essential source of energy for plants, animals, and humans. Moreover, historically, the sun played an important part in the cultural life of ancient civilizations, as it was often personified and perceived as a god. Sun worship took many different forms, from sun-gazing to ritual sacrifices. While these practices might seem questionable today, modern scholars believe that sun exposure has a significant impact on human well-being. This essay will discuss its benefits, including increased vitamin D concentration in the body, the elevated level of specific hormones and chemical compounds, and the overall effect on physical and mental health.
Sun-gazing and human eyesight
The sun always played a central role in the spiritual life of different societies throughout the centuries. For example, Ancient Greeks believed that Helios, the god of the sun, could cure the blind with his powers (Albini and Riva 1303). In Ancient China and India, sun-gazing was considered an essential ritual in religious and spiritual practices (Aldahan et al. 896). Millenia later, Western scientists attempted to integrate these techniques into therapy for people with eyesight issues. In the early 20th century, an ophthalmologist William Bates developed a theory, according to which regular sun-gazing could help improve eyesight (Albini and Riva 1303). While his ideas were popular with some prominent contemporaries, including writer Aldous Huxley, modern science largely disregards his concept. Ironically, photobiomodulation, or low-laser therapy, a modern technique used to treat macular degeneration, is somewhat similar to the sun-gazing experience. According to Albini and Riva, the patients receiving this treatment “look into a beam of light shined into their eyes by a special device” (1304). Arguably, it is the only instance in which direct exposure to a beam of light can be beneficial to human eyesight.
However, sun exposure can have a positive effect on eyesight, as well. Xiong et al. analyzed multiple studies on the connection between outdoor time and myopia. They found that people who spend less time outdoors are more prone to developing myopia (560). Increased outdoor time was equally beneficial for all age groups and was responsible for delaying or preventing myopia onset (Xiong et al. 560-564). Hence, sun exposure benefits our eyesight even though human eyes can hardly tolerate direct sunlight.
Positive effects of sun exposure on physical health
The most notable benefit of sun exposure for the human body is the increased production of Vitamin D. This substance is produced in the body as a result of the interaction between ultraviolet light and Vitamin D precursor. It is essential for calcium homeostasis and the health of the bones. It was also found by Muscogiuri et al. (263) that this substance is necessary for sleep maintenance, decreasing the number of instances of nocturnal awakening. The deficiency of this vitamin is related to different metabolic disorders, osteomalacia, osteoporosis, and cancers (Muscogiuri et al. 263). People who live in cloudy areas have to regularly uptake Vitamin D in the form of supplements. Overall, the studies show that sun exposure has a significant impact on health outcomes.
While the positive effects associated with the accumulation of vitamin D in the human body are well-known, the latest research shows that the benefits of sun exposure are not limited to those. According to van der Rhee, “regular exposure to sunlight could contribute to the prevention of colorectal-, breast-, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), multiple sclerosis (MS), hypertension and diabetes mellitus (DM)” (35). These benefits are associated mainly with the so-called immunomodulation process. Regular exposure to sunlight is vital for the production of several essential compounds and hormones in the human body, including nitric oxide (NO), serotonin, and melatonin (van der Rhee 35). The lack of sun exposure can lead to an increased incidence of chronic diseases in the population.
Positive effects of sun exposure on mental health
The production of serotonin is particularly important because its impact is not limited to physical health. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects the mood of the individual and is responsible for the overall sense of well-being. It is often targeted in medication development to treat anxiety, depression, and other disorders. It was found that people have a higher concentration of serotonin in their blood and better mood respectively on sunny days, regardless of the outside temperature (Park). Moreover, according to the results of the autopsies, people who died during summer had higher levels of the hormone than people who died during winter (Park). The results of the study suggest that regular exposure to the sun will elevate the level of this hormone, improving well-being.
On the other hand, the lack of sunlight can lead to an increased incidence of seasonal affective disorder in the population. It is a type of depression that changes its pattern according to the current season (Seasonal Affective Disorder). One of the causes of this disorder is a decreased level of serotonin. As previously noted, regular exposure to sunlight can help to maintain the normal concentration of this hormone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one of the treatments that have been used since the 1980s is light therapy. During the procedure, a patient is exposed to bright light to compensate for the lack of sun during the dark months (National Institute of Mental Health). Thus, the lack of sunlight can cause not only physical but also serious mental health issues, which require specific treatment.
Risks associated with sun exposure
Although it was stated above that exposure to the sun is beneficial, the amount of sunlight has to be regulated. People who stay under the sun for too long can receive short-term or long-term skin damage. Notably, individuals with light skin tone are the most vulnerable. Short-term damage implies sunburns accomplished by blistering and pain, while long-term damage can lead to skin cancer, the most prevalent type of tumor (van der Rhee 34). However, it is important to note that people who are exposed to sunlight regularly are less likely to get this disease. On the other hand, intermittent exposure to the sun is associated with increased cancer risks (van der Rhee 36). That is why sunbathing without proper protection can be extremely dangerous. The protective measures include wearing sunglasses, applying sunscreen daily, and not staying under the sun for too long.
Overall, sun exposure is beneficial for physical and mental health. It is responsible for the production of Vitamin D in the human body, which is crucial for skeleton development. Other elements produced in human bodies as a result of regular exposure to sunlight play a pivotal role in reducing health risks, such as hypertension, diabetes, and several types of cancer. The sun also contributes to increased levels of serotonin, the hormone of well-being. It helps to prevent specific mental health issues, including seasonal affective disorder. However, excessive doses of UV radiation can be dangerous to the human body. Irregular sunbathing, in particular, can be harmful to people with very light skin tones, as they are more vulnerable to skin damage and, as a result, skin cancer. Hence, regular sun exposure and the use of protective measures are advised to avoid negative health outcomes.
Albini, Francesca and Michele Augusto Riva. “Medicus curat: Sungazing versus Spectacles?” Eye, vol. 34, 2020, pp. 1303-1304.
Aldahan, Adam S. et al. “Sun Exposure in History.” JAMA Dermatology, vol. 152, no. 8, 2016, p. 896. Web.
Muscogiuri, Giovanna. “The Lullaby of the Sun: The Role of Vitamin D in Sleep Disturbance.” Sleep Medicine, vol. 54, no. 2019, 2018, pp. 262-265.
Park, Alice. “Why Sunlight Is So Good For You.” Time, 2017. Web.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. Web.
van der Rhee, Hendrik Jan et al. “Regular sun exposure benefits health.” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 97, 2016, pp. 34-37.
Xiong, Shuyu et al. “Time spent in outdoor activities about myopia prevention and control: a meta-analysis and systematic review.” Acta Ophthalmologica, vol. 95, no. 6, 2017, pp. 551-566. Web.