Sunlight and Health
A certain amount of sunlight on your skin may be necessary for good health. Sunlight activates a gene called pom-C, which in turn helps create melanin that determines skin color and enhances sex drive, the endorphins or "happiness hormones", and leptin, which helps burn fat to keep you thin. In the USA, people who have high sunlight exposure (farmers, mail carriers) live the longest. The key is to find methods to receive adequate sunlight exposure while reducing skin damage.
Why Do People Suntan?
The most common reason given for suntanning is that time in the sun brings a psychological feeling, often intense, of well being and relaxation. The physical warmth of the suns rays is also very pleasant. After becoming more tan, most people feel better about themselves. These are deep psychological feelings and seem to be part of our genetic response to sunlight.
What is Suntanning and is it Dangerous?
An estimated 22 million Americans tan in salon sun beds each year and a much larger number tan outside every year. Suntanning slowly produces pigment (melanin) in the skin as ultraviolet rays in sunlight penetrate the skin. The buildup of melanin helps to blocks ultraviolet rays and also serves as a powerful anti-oxidant. Additional, sunlight produces a redness or erythema that when combined with melanin results in the esthetically preferred skin color tone.
People suntan for a variety of reasons - to enhance physical beauty and sexual attractiveness, for mood elevation. and to counter depression. Some use sunlight to improve skin health as with psoriatic lesions.
But is light suntanning healthy or dangerous?
Consider the following:
- Humans evolved in the presence of abundant sunlight. Geneticists and archeologists calculate that humans lost their body hair 1.2 million years ago but only started wearing clothes 72,000 years ago. So for about 1,128,000 years our ancestors frolicked nude in the Garden of Eden and thrived.
- USA cancer rates are highest in the northern states with the least sunshine.
- Rates of breast, prostate, ovarian, rectal and colon cancer are drastically lower persons with more sunlight exposure.
- Sunlight exposure may reduce breast cancer of 30 to 40% and ovarian cancer by 80%.
- It is calculated that there are 2,200 sunlight associated cancer deaths yearly vs. 138,000 for the above cancers in the USA.
- Sunlight associated cancers (non-melanoma) increase most where sunscreens are most heavily promoted.
- Sunlight raises positive moods in persons with SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
- Psoriatic skin lesions are reduced by sunlight.
- Sunlight raises testosterone levels in males.
- Sunlight exposure may reduce schizophrenia in newborns.
- Multiple sclerosis is much lower in areas with more sunlight exposure.
But my doctor says sunlight is dangerous!
Despite the medical establishment's near unanimity (with the exception of many cancer research scientists) on the issue of sunlight exposure, serious health errors have been promoted to the public in the past.
- In 1927, 12,745 physicians endorsed smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes as a healthful activity. In the 1940s and 1950s, thousands of prominent surgeons were used in national cigarette advertisements to reassure the public about the safety of cigarette smoking.
- In the 1950s, lobotomies were promoted for mental disorders and produced near-totally dysfunctional people.
- In the 1960s and 1970s, diets high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats and partially hydrogenated fatty acids such as safflower oil and margarine were recommended to reduce heart disease. However, long term studies found that, while such diets decreased heart disease, they increased the total death rate and the cancer rate and produced accelerated aging.
- For the past 30 years, cosmetic companies and a small group of very vocal, publicity-seeking dermatologists have strongly advocated that chemical sunscreens should be heavily applied before any exposure to sunlight. They insisted that such sunscreen use would prevent skin cancer and protect your health. This was in spite of a dearth of adequate safety testing of these chemicals. (It should be emphasized that most dermatologists are much more cautious and careful)
- While it is established that excessive sun exposure will produce serious skin damage, it is also possible that we need some minimum amount of sunlight to maintain good health and a positive mental state. Sitting in a dark room for years did not help the brilliant industrialist and movie producer, Howard Hughes. Sunlight produces vitamin D in the skin (and probably other unknown molecules) and also strongly affects pineal gland function - considered one the the master glands controlling body function.