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Sunshine: Friend or Foe?

Updated: Mar 20

7 Reasons Why You Should Not Fear The Sun

It's Wednesday morning. I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop on the south side of the square in downtown Columbia, Tennessee. The milk truck rumbles by as the city rouses again. Soon, several friends will arrive. Weekly we meet here to catch up on life between slurps from paper cups. I wait facing out the window perched atop a low-backed stool. Rays of morning light illuminate the finial atop the courthouse across the street. The sun's warmth nudges away the frost on the window edges in front of me. It occurs to me that spring is coming soon. Before long the dogwoods and redbuds will be showing off, the robins will return and our leghorns will ramp up egg production. All coaxed on by the sun's lengthening trek across the sky.    

Made on the fourth day and set in the Heavens, the sun met God's approval.  He called it  "good" and gave it a purpose. It has a job to do and what a job the sun has. Since the beginning of time, cultures have had a profound sense of the importance of the sun. Ancient Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, and Incas built temples for sun worship.  Egyptians regarded the Pharaohs as descendants of the Sun-god they called Ra. 

We modern people also affirm the role of the sun in our lives. We use it to mark the times and seasons. In school, we learn of its endless energy which fuels the rain cycle. Its photons change gas into matter to nourish plant life. We know we are dependent on the sun for the existence of life on Earth. The sun is crucial for the world.  It is also essential for human health.  

Unfortunately, the sun has gotten a bad rap in the last few decades. Some skin and eye health professionals often warn about the sun's dangers.  Encouragement to avoid the sun has become common health advice. Sunscreen and sunglasses are sold as health tools. We are advised that we need them to protect ourselves from the sun's dangerous UV rays. The application of sunscreen has become a sign of good parenting.  Sunglasses are now everywhere. We are now recognizing that some of our health problems are in fact from a lack of sunshine instead of too much of it. 

It is noted that exposure to adequate sunshine correlates with better health. More time in the sun leads to improved immunity and heart function. The sun improves sleep and mood and heals wounds faster. 

To help navigate the mixed messaging about the sun, here are a few things I remind my patients:

  1. People have lived outside in with sun for quite some time. Sunglasses and sunscreen are recent inventions. If the sun was dangerous for us we'd have all died out a long time ago.  

  2. Ditch the sunglasses. Except for unnatural situations like driving and flying, we rarely need them. Let the sun hit your eyes. At the back of our eye sits an amazing molecule called melanopsin.  This molecule transmits essential messages to our brain from the sun.  It tells our brains what time of day it is.  With that information, our brain does important things.  It releases chemicals to wake us up and prepare us for sleep.  It protects our skin from damage when the sun is intense.  It also helps us regulate our appetites and keep us at our optimal weight. If we wear sunglasses our eyes can't get this important message.  Melanopsin can't work. 

  3. Get your skin in the game. Sunshine on your skin has many health benefits. Most of us know that time in the sun helps create healthy vitamin D levels. It also does many other useful things. The sun improves wound healing. It is a good therapy for common skin ailments like psoriasis and eczema. I don't recommend getting sunburned but skin that is warm and pink from the sun is healthy skin. The case that the sun causes skin cancer is overstated. In fact, according to history, sun exposure increases survival in melanoma - the worst type of skin cancer. 

  4. Most people have heard that healthy bacteria in our intestines is a good idea. Sun on our stomachs improves the type of bacteria that live in there. Turns out bacteria like the sun too. 

  5. The sun keeps our blood vessels healthy and blood pressure optimal. 

  6. Increased time in the sun is associated with a better mood.  Sunshine makes us happy. 

  7. Simple and cheap health solutions are also often the best. Nothing is cheaper than going outside. Wake up in the morning and watch the sunrise.  If you can get some of that morning light on your skin do that. Even if it's cold it still works. During the intense times of sunlight seek some shade. A sunburn is never a good idea.  In the evening do it again. Watch the sunset. Expose your skin and eyes to the fading light. Do this every day and you will see benefits. 

As great as the sun is I don't recommend building any temples for it. We have something better to worship. Nor do I recommend being afraid of the sun. The sun is not out to get you. It's here to help. It gives life to the Earth and health to our bodies. The sun nourishes the soil with warmth and water which in turn brings forth good things.  Things like redbuds and farm fresh eggs, and coffee… and Wednesday mornings with friends. God made the sun and said it was good. And it is. 


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