The Risks and Benefits of Sunbathing
Origin of Sunbathing or Heliotherapy
Heliotherapy or sunbathing is one of the oldest and ancient health care practice, used to fight common illnesses, maintain general health and to boost the immune system. The energy of sun was considered to be life giving with its healing powers.
In the first recorded instances, the Greeks,Romans,Persians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Indians had sun gardens for sunbathing, and even worshiped the sun. To strengthen and enlarge the muscles of the gladiators, the sunbathes were used by the Romans.
The Mithraism or sun worship became a universal religion in the third century BC. The sunlight was considered to be the to be the best food and a natural medicine at that time. But the Christianity termed sunbathing a sin, and this gave a severe blow to sunbathing practice.
Unlike our forefathers,who worked and lived in sunlight, we live in sunlight by only walking to our cars and remain indoors. By wearing sunglasses we deprive our eyes from the beneficial rays of sun.
The modern confirmation of the benefits of sunlight is the source of Vitamin D in it. Besides giving a healthy looking tan, the responsible sunbathing has numerous benefits like increasing the mood and libido.
A better mood
Higher risk of skin cancer
premature ageing, DNA damage
Discolouration of the skin
The ultraviolet radiation is part of the electromagnetic or light spectrum of the sunlight. It is invisible to the naked eye, because of shorter wavelength as compared to the visible light. These UV rays of sunlight consists of different bands like UVA ( long waves, black light ), UVB (medium waves), and UVC ( short wave, germicidal ). The most of the UVC does not reach the earth as it is absorbed by the ozone layer. The electric arc also produces UV light, and the welders should wear an eye protection.
The UVA and UVB, penetrate the atmosphere of the earth, and in overexposure they suppress the immune system, and cause premature skin aging, cataracts, skin cancers etc
The UVA, induces the body to produce vitamin D. An overexposure to UVA causes skin toughening, suppress the immune system, and forms cataract. These are less intense than UVB and account for 95 % of the UV radiations reaching the surface of the earth. They can penetrate clouds and glass and their intensity is the same during all daylight hours throughout the year.
The UVA, penetrates more deeply into the skin than UVB. It plays a major part in skin aging, wrinkling or photoaging, but until recently scientists believed it did not cause significant damage in areas of the epidermis ( outermost skin layer ) where most skin cancers occur.
The UVA is the tanning ray. Both outdoor or salon tanning damage the skin because the tan is due to the injury to the DNA of the skin. The skin darkens to prevent further damage to the skin and cause cancer.
On the other hand the UVB is completely absorbed by the atmosphere and is the most destructive form of UV radiation and is responsible for causing cancer and sunburn on skin. The photochemical damage to cellular DNA is caused by the energy contained in of UVB. Its harmful outdoors effects include erythema or sunburn, cataracts, and skin cancer. Most of the solar UVB is blocked by atmospheric ozone layer. But the decrease in ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons ( CFC ) could increase the skin cancer prevalence. But the exposure to UVB is also an effective and long-term treatment for eczema, vitiligo, psoriasis etc.
The UVB,is mainly responsible for skin cancer, photo-aging, tanning,sunburn and reddening of skin, by damaging the superficial epidermal layers of the skin. The intensity of UBA varies according to location, day time and from season to season.In America, the most intense UVB strikes from April to October, in between 10 AM to 4 PM. But overexposure to UVB causes damages at all times of the year. The places at high altitudes, and the areas having snow or ice, cause the UVB to hit the skin twice, because of more than 80 % reflection of the rays. The UVB can not penetrate the glass surface significantly.
The skin color is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin. The melanin absorbs the ultraviolet rays from the sunlight. The people with very light skin color have little melanin in their skin and should be extra careful about the duration of the time spent below the sun. Because it causes melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which annually kills more than 8,000 people in America.
Overexposure of UV radiation damages the cellular DNA of the skin and skin cancer occurs. The UV as a proven human carcinogen has been identified by WHO which leads to nonmelanoma skin cancers ( NMSC ), like squamous cell carcinoma ( SCC ), and basal cell carcinoma ( BCC ). The squamous and basal cells are types of keratinocyte cells. found in the epidermis. The keratinocyte are dead cells forming a tough protective layer and are found in the outer surface of epidermis. The cells under the keratinocyte divide to replenish the supply of new cells in the skin.
How to Get UV Protection
The chemical agents like tetracycline, cyclamates, birth control pills, sulphathiazole, lime oil, antidepressants, anti dandruff shampoo containing coal tar distillates, some cosmetics and some sunscreens aggravate the photo-chemical effect of UV radiations.
For both the indoors and outdoor protection from UV radiation, remain in shade between 10 AM to 4 PM. The UVA can penetrate the glass, so add UV protective film to the windows of the houses and to the rear and the sides of the cars. The UV film blocks 99.9 % of radiation, but allows 80 % of visible light to enter inside. Only the limited protection is given by sun blocking lotions.
Sun-protective clothes with ultraviolet protection factor, showing how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric, help to limit the exposure. The UV radiation is reflected by the bright or deeply dark colored and lustrous clothes more, than by the bleached cotton or pastels. The loose fitting and closely woven clothes act as a sort of barrier between the skin and the sunlight. The broad brimmed hats and UV blocking sunglasses help to shield the sensitive skin of neck,head, and eyes.
As new researches are pouring in every year, the confusion about the protection and understanding of exact damage caused to the skin by UVA and UVB is increasing. To keep abreast of new developments is a challenge that can help all of us prevent sun damage.
The sunbathing benefits outweigh skin cancer risks
A great hype has been found in the last few decades, that adverse health effects are caused by sunlight. This is depriving the people of the healthy effects of sunlight and sunbathing. The reason may be to make money by selling the harmful, chemical based synthetic skin protection products.
There are several factors responsible for the harmful and unhealthy effects of sunlight. These are bad diet, overexposure, poor hydration, pollution in environment and the timing to remain in sunlight. The healing and soothing effects of sunlight are innumerable.
The sunbathing prolongs the life span, and decreases blood pressure or heart attack risks. The production of nitric oxide in the blood vessels which lowers the blood pressure, is promoted by the ultraviolet rays of sunlight.
Thus the benefits of sunlight, outweigh the risks of skin cancer. Because, it has been found that 90 times more people die due to strokes and the heart maladies caused by high blood pressure than by skin cancer.
Sunbathing Gives Vitamin D
The most important and popular benefit offered by sunlight is the vitamin D. Merely the exposure of the skin to the rays of sun provides this essential nutrient to the skin. The vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system of the body. It also increases the absorption of calcium by the body and helps in strong bone formation and bone growth. Vitamin D is helpful to avoid kidney stones formations, alleviates diabetes, and reduces the obesity, and improves the cognitive functions. It boosts the immune system, controls blood pressure and keep the heart healthy. The lack of sunlight can not be substituted by just resorting to the vitamin D supplements in diet.
The sunlight helps in production and regulation of hormones. The sunbathing decreases the symptoms of menopause and post menstrual syndrome. The sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland of the brain and regulates the secretions in it. This increases the memory, insight and creativity.
The sunlight helps the brain to produce endorphins and serotonin, which act as mood boosters and fight against depression.
Clears the skin
The sunbathing cures the skin irritations like rashes, acne, eczema, athlete's foot etc. The sunlight clears the skin, and gives a healthy glow to it.
Breaks down toxins
The sunbathing helps in proper functioning of the liver, It helps the body to break down waste products and toxins, which are known to cause cancer and several other diseases.
Fights against insomnia
the sunbathing fights against insomnia or sleeplessness. The sunlight fixes the internal clock of the brain and helps in production of melatonin. Both these things lead to a sound sleep at night.
Increases blood circulation
The sunbathing increases the production of both red and white blood corpuscles in the body and thereby helps in better blood circulation.
Link of Parkinson's with Vitamin D
The Parkinson's disease affects the nerve cells present in different parts of the brain. These cells are especially those that use dopa-mine which is the chemical messenger controlling the movements of the body. The oral replacement of dopa-mine treats the symptoms of tremor, stiffness and slow movements. The vitamin D plays an important role in the formation of bones.
As compared to 36% of the healthy people, the 60% of the patients of Parkinson disease had been found to have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
However, the researchers do not yet know if the vitamin deficiency is a cause or the result of having Parkinson's disease.
The studies revealed that, the part of the brain which mostly gets affected by Parkinson's is substantia nigra. This part has high levels of vitamin D receptors.The vitamin D is important for normal functioning of these cells in the brain.
The vitamin D is formed in the skin, by exposure to sunlight or by taking proper diet. The ability of the body to produce vitamin D , decreases with age, and the deficiency occurs.
Paradoxically, the people with Parkinson's spend little time outdoors, and this thing aggravates the problem, whereas on other hand, the origin of the disease is linked to low vitamin D levels.
Researches are underway to link vitamin D with production of pep-tides that fight microbes in the skin; or regulating blood pressure and insulin levels; or maintaining the nervous system of the body.
Vitamin D at low levels increases the risk of several cancers and autoimmune diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Sunbath in Pregnancy
Sunbathing increases the hormone levels and it dangerous for pregnant or before becoming pregnant as it can affect the health of the fetus. The rays of the suns are dangerous, even if the pregnant women is the healthiest. Therefore avoid the intense or prolonged exposure to UV rays around pregnancy or during conception.
During the pregnancy the hormone levels increase, which make the skin more sensitive. Increase in estrogen, has the risk of developing chloasma, which appears in the form of darkened spots on the face and body, particularly on forehead and across the nose. These spots may not disappear even after pregnancy.With overexposure to harmful UV radiations, the skin gets burned and skin cancer ( melanoma ) occurs. The risk of cancer increases with repeated skin burns.
The sunbathing drains the needful fluids and causes overheating or dehydration in the body. The undue stress or preterm contractions are caused when a pregnant body is deprived of body fluids and water. The birth defects like brain damage of the fetus, could be caused due to an increased core temperature in the overheated body for longer duration.
In later pregnancy the increased temperature due to basking in the sun for hours at a time, causes the a risk of premature labor.
To protect the fetus, during the first few weeks of pregnancy, from developing the neural tube defects of the spinal column and brain, the high levels of folic acid is needed. This much needed folic acid in the body breaks down due to the ultraviolet rays. During the first trimester, the folic acid supplements should be taken.
How to Stay in Sun During Pregnancy
To stay in the sun during pregnancy, certain precaution should be taken to make it safer.
Apply homemade sunscreen to prevent sun burning.For maximum protection, reapply it after every two hours.
Drink enough plain water to keep the body cool and stay hydrated to prevent overheating and dehydration of the body.
To reduce the exposure to the UV rays, wear large brimmed hat and sunglasses while being outdoors.This will give protection to the sensitive parts of eyes, face, shoulders and neck.
Avoid the sun between 10 AM to 4 PM, because at this time the suns rays are more intense.The peaceful afternoon could be spent in the sun, but make sure not to get too hot.
The sunlight helps in the metabolism of vitamin D, which assists in bone formation. Therefore the body message during the moderate heat wave, is the best for the mothers.
The skin color changes more easily, because during pregnancy, the higher levels of the hormone called melanocyte stimulating hormone, makes the skin to react to the sunlight, by becoming darker. This causes irregular dark patches on the face called chloasma or melasma. A line called linea nigra also appears down the middle of the belly. The sunbathing make the chloasma and linea nigra more noticeable and prominent.
Vitamin D supports a healthy pregnancy and the vitamin D levels should be treated during this period.During the pregnancy the low levels of vitamin D, increase the risk of vaginal infection, cesarean, and preeclampsia. It also leads to higher risks of mental disorders,respiratory problems, brain or heart problems, low birth weight, autism, infection etc.
During pregnancy and nursing, adequate levels of vitamin D in blood has been found to be related to lower premature labor. Decrease in the vitamin D levels causes risk of gestational diabetes in the mother and causes bone problems for the child.
A recent research has found that pregnant women should get more sunlight, for better health for themselves and their babies, and to reduce the overall complications.
The children with diabetes, autism, or frequent infections should be given higher doses of sunshine throughout the year.
Duration and Responsible Sunbathing
Proper sunbathing is to receive the sun rays without any overexposure. The first important thing is to know the exact time to be spend in direct sunlight at one time. The second thing is , to know the the best times of day for sunbathing.
The duration of time varies according to skin complexion and the time of previous exposure. This is called responsible sunbathing.Because getting no sunlight at all, is just as unhealthy as getting too much of it.
The time of day selected for sunbathing is crucial. Don't sunbathe in the full intensity of the sun.It is the time when the sun is at the heighest point in the sky.
Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun between 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM.But, from season to season this time duration varies.
Gradually increase the time duration in the sun. Depending upon skin color, begin with 10 AM and sunbath few times a week for 30 minutes. The skin produces more melanin in sunlight, so in every next attempt of sunning, the body becomes more capable to absorb the rays of the sun.Understand the time to be spent in sunlight and never stay long enough to become sun-burnt or red. Pay attention to how much sunlight your body can tolerate.
For longer exposures to the sunlight, drink a lot of water; eat healthy and clean diet; and wear a hat.If the time in the sun use a homemade vegan and chemical free sunscreen.
The deficiency of important nutrients like, vitamins A, vitamin E, and vitamin C increase the chances of getting sun-burnt.
The junk food or rich food, animal fats and animal proteins enhance the cancer risks by sunlight. The cancer fighting nutrients and antioxidants like vegetables, fruits and whole grains also protect the skin and the body from harmful effects of sunlight.
The use of sunscreen at sunbathing or at all times is one of the biggest misconceptions. The sunscreen do not prevent skin cancer, but can even cause cancer in many ways.
The body does not produce Vitamin D from sunlight, When sunscreen is used. This vitamin is important for health and even helps to prevent various types of cancers.
Generally the sunscreens contain harmful chemicals, which go into the skin and disturb the immune system. This makes the body prone to cancer like diseases. These harmful chemicals enter the bloodstream and cause great damage while being transported throughout the entire body. These chemicals when washed off in water, cause water contamination.
The sunscreen gives the false idea of complete protection, that a person can stay out in sunlight for longer duration and subjects himself for overexposure. The longer the people stay outside by using the sunscreen the more lasting damage they cause to their skin.
The sunscreens have many many toxic substances. All types of ultraviolet radiation are not blocked by sunscreens, like UVA rays, which do not cause sunburn, but cause skin cancer with overexposure.
The sunscreen also cause or aggravate acne and clog the pores of the skin.
Sunlight can reduce the risks of Diabetes
The deficiency of vitamin D due to insufficient sunlight increases the risk of type II diabetes. The people who have enough vitamin D in body are less prone to type II diabetes. The recent researchers of Pathology in Melbourne have come to the conclusion that these findings could help in fighting against the present circumstances arising due to the increase in the number of patients of type II diabetes.
By testing the blood samples of 5200 people, it was found that extra 25 nano-moles of
Vitamin D in blood reduced the risk of type II diabetes by 24%. The concentration of less than 50 nano-moles per liter in body amounts to deficiency of of vitamin D.
The people could take the dietary supplements to decrease the risks of diabetes, if once the relationship between diabetes and vitamin D gets established.
On the other hand several people die due to cancer every year due to the deficiency of vitamin D and sunlight.
At present it is not advisable to tale dietary supplements to reduce the risks of diabetes. But we know that the nutritious diet and regular exercises are the best options to reduce the risks of type II diabetes.
© 2013 Sanjay Sharma
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