How the sun helps our immune system, bones & mood
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Getting out in the sunshine can have adverse affects which most know about, yet do we understand the good things the sun offers? Let’s have a look…
We can get vitamin D from food, supplements and from the sun. We need vitamin D for the proper utilisation of calcium. Calcium of course is very important for our bones.
In clinic I’ve tested hundreds of clients over the years for vitamin D levels. At least 90% of clients’ levels were sub-optimal (low) while most of the remainder with optimal levels were supplementing. In other words, in a subtropical part of Australia most clients were deficient in vitamin D.
Why? First, the amount of vitamin D we need is not sufficient in our food choices. Second, many people do not buy supplements. Third, we have become very risk adverse to sunshine and the message is to cover up, avoid the sun and if not use strong sunscreens. Consequently our main ‘supplier’ of vitamin D, the sun, has been blocked.
There are varying opinions, studies and factors about what the ideal daily sunshine exposure is to ensure adequate calcium absorption. Factors that influence sun exposure include time of day, season, colour of skin, sunscreen, skin colour, age, exposed body parts, altitude, and cloud cover.
While there is no definitive answer, based on my in-clinic work and research, I feel the ideal daily sunshine exposure to ensure adequate calcium absorption is 20% of the skin exposed for 30 minutes at sea level in the early morning or late afternoon sun (to avoid the damaging rays of sun during the middle of the day).
Many people only expose their face and hands (5% of body) and may work inside. Most artificial lighting, both incandescent and fluorescent, lacks the complete balanced spectrum of sunlight and contributes to a condition called malillumination (lack of illumination).
Malillumination (like malnutrition) can be damaging. For example, if certain wavelengths are missing in the light we receive the body cannot fully absorb certain nutrients. The result is that even with adequate nutrition the body can be malnourished if it doesn’t get exposure to the right light. This can contribute to fatigue, depression, hair loss, and suppressed immune function.
Our lives, our health and well-being are dependent on the sun. The human body is nourished directly by the stimulation of sunlight and indirectly by eating foods and breathing air that has been vitalised by the sun’s energy and light.
When light enters the eyes, millions of light sensitive cells convert light into electrical impulses that travel along the optic nerve to the brain where they trigger the hypothalamus gland, which is part of the endocrine system.
The endocrine system balances the automatic bodily functions such as breathing, digestion, moods, blood pressure, the immune system and can also regulate our hormones.
Not only the eyes, the skin also collects photons of energy from the sun via nerve ganglions which act like electric wires to conduct the photons to all organs for cellular regeneration (similar to what happens with plants in the process called photosynthesis). Photons not only stimulate the endocrine system but also metabolic processes and activities in the brain.
Lactic acid, a by-product of muscle metabolism that causes soreness and stiffness after exercise, is significantly reduced by to the suns rays. The sun’s rays also increase the ability of the lungs to absorb more oxygen and the blood’s capacity to carry and deliver it. Oxygen deficiency is linked to a range of illnesses.
Studies have also found that some wavelengths of light can stimulate certain enzymes to be up to 500% more effective. More recent research has also shown that sunlight stimulates the thyroid gland to increase hormone levels, which can also increase metabolism and aid weight loss.
In countries with long dark winters there is a condition called seasonally affected disorder (SAD) which is shown to be a direct result of insufficient light stimulating the retina, specifically the reticular-endocrine system, and causing depression.
It is now starting to show up in countries with lots of sunlight because people are so meticulous with ‘slip, slop, slapping’ sunscreens and wrapping in clothes that they are reducing their sun exposure to very low levels.
Of course we must be very careful not to go completely the other way with too much exposure at the wrong time of the day. Skin cancer is still very real and affects the lives of many people.
The sun is an important factor in skin cancer manifestation. But we must see it as a factor and not the total picture. Some people get skin cancer even if they have little exposure to the sun and there are some who have had lots of long term exposure to the sun without experiencing skin cancer. So what is it that makes one person get skin cancer and another not?
One of the answers is that the skin is the largest organ of elimination in our body and if any other organ of elimination is compromised in any way then this puts extra burden on the skin.
For example if you smoke (which puts more burden on the lungs, an organ of elimination) or if you have a toxic colon, then you may increase your chance of contracting skin cancers, even with low sun exposure.
To illustrate what I mean, a 44 year old lady came to me because she ached with painful muscles all over her body and had severe constipation. Because her level of constipation was so serious, I realised her body was very toxic, so I suggested a course of colonic irrigation (which I used to provide at the time) because her bowel was less than efficient and the treatments would help to clear the toxins. I also prescribed herbs, magnesium and a detox diet.
Because she was in such a bad way, we scheduled 12 treatments over 6 weeks. She was making great progress and during the 10th visit she flawed me when she said she had been scheduled for hospital surgery to have multiple skin cancers from her back removed, which she had omitted to tell me previously as she thought it irrelevant. But because there was a waiting time before the surgery, she decided to see me to help her cope better with the painful muscles and chronic constipation.
But the best news was that, apart from feeling much better from the colonic treatments, she then proclaimed that all of her skin cancers had disappeared and the surgery was cancelled. Now I do not suggest at all that colonics can cure skin cancer, but this classic example shows that if the body is given the right conditions it can often heal itself. In my client’s case, we removed the toxins from her body which had obviously affected her skin.
Note: I don’t perform colonic irrigation anymore. Instead I use other forms of detoxification.
Another factor in skin cancer production is the fact that the sun is actually purifying the body of toxins and it is the body’s release of these toxins via the skin that can then subsequently turn cancerous in some cases.
I’m often asked about my view on sunscreens. Normally I do not use a sunscreen on my body because the skin is an important organ of elimination, and I don’t want to block the pores of my skin from eliminating and detoxifying via sweating.
If I do use a sunscreen on my face when I am in the sun, I only use a non waterproof type, so my skin can breathe. I always reapply after swimming. I also prefer natural sunscreens without chemicals.
However I am very careful not to expose my body to the harsh rays of the summer sun between 9am and 4pm. In winter, because the sun is not as intense I extend those hours, provided it’s not a hot day.
Sunlight is a natural part of our lives and should not be totally avoided. Sensible exposure is important for your health and your emotions.
Note: this article is based on my opinions and observations and does not reflect the views of any organisations.