The Benefits of Sunbathing
Origin of Sunbathing or Heliotherapy
Heliotherapy or sunbathing is one of the oldest and ancient healthcare practice, used to fight common illnesses, maintain general health and to boost the immune system. The energy of the 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 sunbathers 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 best food and natural medicine at that time. But 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 of the beneficial rays of the 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.
The deficiency of vitamin D and sunlight kills several people every year due to cancer.
Pros and Cons of Sunbathing
A better mood
Higher risk of skin cancer
Premature ageing, DNA damage
Discolouration of the skin
What are Ultraviolet Rays
The ultraviolet radiation is a part of the electromagnetic or light spectrum of the sunlight. It is invisible to the naked eye, because of the shorter wavelength as compared to the visible light.
These UV rays of sunlight consist of different bands like UV A ( long waves, black light ), UV B (medium waves), and UV C ( shortwave, germicidal ).
Most of the UV C does not reach the earth as it is absorbed by the ozone layer. The welders should wear eye protection as an electric arc also produces UV light.
The UV A and UV B, penetrate the atmosphere of the earth, and in overexposure, they suppress the immune system and cause premature skin aging, cataracts, skin cancers, etc.
The UV A induces the body to produce vitamin D. An overexposure to UV A causes skin toughening, suppress the immune system, and forms a cataract. These are less intense than UV B 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 UV A penetrates more deeply into the skin than UV B. It plays a major part in skin aging, wrinkling or photo-aging, 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 UV A 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, UV B is completely absorbed by the atmosphere and is the most destructive form of UV radiation and is responsible for causing cancer and sunburn on the skin. The photo-chemical damage to cellular DNA is caused by the energy contained in UV B. It is harmful to outdoors effects and causes erythema or sunburn, cataracts, and skin cancer.
Most of the solar UV B is blocked by the atmospheric ozone layer. But the decrease in the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons ( CFC ) could increase the skin cancer prevalence. But the exposure to UV B is also an effective and long-term treatment for eczema, vitiligo, psoriasis, etc.
The UV B is mainly responsible for skin cancer, photo-aging, tanning, sunburn and reddening of the skin, by damaging the superficial epidermal layers of the skin.
The intensity of UV A varies according to location, daytime and from season to season.
In America, the most intense UV B strikes from April to October, in between 10 AM to 4 PM. But overexposure to UV B causes damages at all times of the year. The places at high altitudes, and the areas having snow or ice cause the UV B to hit the skin twice, because of more than 80 % reflection of the rays. The UV B cannot 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 to 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 non-melanoma 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 and produce keratin.
The keratinocyte is a dead cell that forms a tough protective layer and is found on the outer surface of the 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, cyclamate (artificial sweetener), birth control pills, sulpha-thiazole, lime oil, antidepressants, anti-dandruff shampoo containing coal tar distillates, some cosmetics, and some sunscreens aggravate the photochemical 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 a 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 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 the neck, head, and face.
As new researches are pouring in every year, the confusion about the protection and understanding of the exact damage caused to the skin by UV A and UV B is increasing. To keep abreast of new developments is a challenge that can help all of us prevent sun damage.
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 the environment and the timing to remain in sunlight. The healing and soothing effects of sunlight are innumerable.
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.
Benefits of 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 the sun provides this essential nutrient to the skin.
The lack of sunlight cannot be substituted by just resorting to the vitamin D supplements in a diet.
The vitamin D helps to regulate and boost the immune system of the body. It also increases the absorption of calcium by the body and helps in a strong bone formation and bone growth.
Diabetes and Obesity
Vitamin D alleviates diabetes and reduces obesity.
Controls Blood Pressure
It controls blood pressure and promotes the health of the heart. The sunbathing prolongs the lifespan 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.
The sunlight helps in the 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 memory, insight, and creativity. It also improves cognitive functions.
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.
The sunbathing helps in the 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.
Vitamin D is helpful to avoid the formation of kidney stones.
The sunbathing fights against insomnia or sleeplessness. The sunlight fixes the internal clock of the brain and helps in the production of melatonin. Both of 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.
Vitamin D plays an important role in the formation of bones.
Link of Parkinson's with Vitamin D
Parkinson's disease affects the nerve cells present in different parts of the brain. These cells are especially those that use dopamine which is the chemical messenger controlling the movements of the body.
The oral replacement of dopamine treats the symptoms of tremor, stiffness and slow movements.
Around 36% of the healthy people have been found to be deficient in Vitamin D,
About 60% of patients suffering from 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 and vitamin D is important for the 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 another hand, the origin of the disease is linked to low vitamin D levels.
Researches are underway to link vitamin D with the production of peptides that fight microbes in the skin. It is being determined if Vitamin D regulates blood pressure and insulin levels, or maintains 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 hormone levels. It is dangerous in pregnancy or before becoming pregnant, as it can affect the health of the fetus.
The rays of the suns are dangerous, even if pregnant women is the healthiest one. Therefore avoid the intense or prolonged exposure to UV rays around pregnancy or during conception.
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 a longer duration.
In later pregnancy, the increased temperature due to basking in the sun for hours at a time causes 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. But the UV rays break down this much needed folic acid in the body.
So during the first trimester, the folic acid supplements should be taken.
Sunlight Causes Dark Spots on Face
During pregnancy the hormone levels increase, which makes the skin more sensitive. The higher levels of the hormone called melanocyte-stimulating hormone, make the skin reacts to the sunlight to make it darker. This causes chloasma or melasma.
The raised estrogen levels increase the risk of chloasma, which appears in the form of irregular dark spots on face and body, particularly on the forehead and across the nose. These spots may not disappear even after pregnancy.
A line called linea nigra also appears down the middle of the belly. Sunbathing makes the chloasma and linea nigra more noticeable and prominent.
How to Stay in Sun During Pregnancy
Certain precaution should be taken to make stay in the sun during pregnancy 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 the eyes, face, shoulders, and neck.
Avoid the sun between 10 AM to 4 PM, because at this time the rays of the sun 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 heatwave is the best for the mothers.
Vitamin D supports a healthy pregnancy. So the levels of vitamin D should be monitored during this period.
The low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy 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.
Adequate levels of vitamin D in blood during pregnancy and nursing has been found to be related to lower premature labor.
A decrease in the vitamin D levels causes the risk of gestational diabetes in the mother and causes bone problems for the child.
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.
Proper sunbathing is to receive the rays of the sun without any overexposure.
The first important thing is to know the exact time to be spent in direct sunlight at one time.
The second thing is, to know 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.
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, i.e., when the sun is at the highest point in the sky.
Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun between 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. But this duration varies from season to season.
Gradually increase the time spent in the sunlight. Depending upon skin color, begin with 10 AM and sunbath a few times a week for 30 minutes.
The skin produces more melanin in sunlight, and the body becomes more capable of absorbing the sun rays in every next attempt of being in sunlight.
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 the body can tolerate.
For longer exposures to the sunlight, drink a lot of water; eat healthy and clean diet, and wear a hat.
Use a homemade vegan and chemical-free sunscreen in sunlight.
The deficiency of important nutrients like vitamins A, vitamin E, and vitamin C increase the chances of getting sun-burnt.
The junk food, 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 protect the skin and the body from the harmful effects of sunlight.
Sunlight and 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 the body are less prone to type II diabetes.
The recent researches of Pathology in Melbourne have concluded that these findings could help in fighting against the increasing number of patients of type II diabetes.
By testing the blood samples of 5200 people, it was found that an extra 25 nano-moles of vitamin D per liter in the blood reduced the risk of type II diabetes by 24%. The concentration of fewer than 50 nano-moles amounts to deficiency of vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements could be taken to decrease the risks of diabetes if once the relationship between diabetes and vitamin D gets established.
At present, it is not advisable to take dietary supplements of Vitamin D to reduce the risks of diabetes.
The nutritious diet and regular exercises are the best options to reduce the risks of type II diabetes.
Misconceptions of Sunscreens
The use of sunscreen at sunbathing or at all times is one of the biggest misconceptions. The sunscreens 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 the 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 several toxic substances. All types of ultraviolet radiation are not blocked by sunscreens, like UV A rays, which do not cause sunburn but cause skin cancer with overexposure.
The sunscreen clogs the pores of the skin and also causes or aggravates acne.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Sanjay Sharma