For millions of years, we evolved as a human race under the warmth and love of the sun. The Ancient Greeks understood that the sun could heal and bring vibrancy to health, which is why they used sunlight therapy, known as heliosis. These days, while the dangers of excessive sun exposure are well recognized, the benefits of safe exposure to sunlight on your health and mood are hard to ignore.
Exposure to the sun is your number one source of Vitamin D, an important vitamin needed to assist in the growth of virtually every cell of your body. It also accounts for over 90% of your vitamin D requirement. A deficiency in this vitamin has been linked to depression and a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that is more common in winter months, but also common in people who work long hours in office buildings. When we spend too much of our time indoors, under artificial lighting, we are literally depriving ourselves of the healing power of nature.
Sunlight has long been known to help cure depression and other mood disorders, such as anxiety. A study led by Gavin Lambert of the Baker Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, measured serotonin levels in the blood vessels leading directly from the brain. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter known as the ‘feel good’ chemical, is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, sleep, and dreaming. Low levels of this important hormone have been linked to depression and sleep disorders, including insomnia.
In the study, samples were taken from 101 healthy men during each of the four seasons and compared with various weather factors, such as temperature, rainfall, hours of bright sunlight, and atmospheric pressure. Researchers found that regardless of the season, levels of serotonin in the brain were affected by the amount of sunlight on any given day. The levels of serotonin were higher on bright days compared to overcast or cloudy ones. In fact, the rate of serotonin production in the brain was proven to be directly related to the duration of bright sunlight. The researchers say their study shows that the prevailing amount of sunlight clearly affects serotonin levels in healthy individuals.
So how much time do you need to spend in the sun to boost your levels of vitamin D? Spending as little as 10-15 minutes in the midday sun will supply your body with about 10,000 international units of vitamin D. This is well over the recommended daily intake, however, many experts believe that these recommendations are far too low to maintain healthful levels. This is especially true during the winter period and if you are elderly and/or are dark-skinned.
Apart from helping you to feel happier, the sunshine vitamin may also protect you against many diseases, including osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon.
Another benefit of spending time outside in the sunshine is the increase in your body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin, which is produced by your pineal gland, is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps combat inflammation. It is a hormone that plays a key role in the wake-sleep cycle, the chemical signal that orchestrates the transition from awake to asleep to back awake again. Your body produces melatonin at night, however, like vitamin D, it is regulated by exposure to sunlight during the day. Producing adequate melatonin is crucial to getting a good night's sleep, and getting good quality sleep is crucial to your overall sense of happiness and wellbeing.
If you have two or more of the following symptoms, your body may be low in vitamin D.
Consult with a health care professional to see if supplementing your diet with this important vitamin may be necessary.