“Any person who misses out on sunlight becomes weak and suffers mental and physical problems as a result. His vital energy diminishes in due time, which is reflected in his quality of life.”–Andreas Moritz

Today, many people tend to believe that the sun’s impact on our health is largely negative. Countless warnings about skin cancer and prematurely-aged skin caused by sun exposure have left many people hesitant to brave sunlight without first coating themselves with sun screen.

Sun therapy in ancient cultures

It wasn’t always like this. For thousands of years, people in many cultures—ancient Greece and Rome, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Egypt—valued sun bathing for its health benefits.  Indian yogis called the healing science of sun bathing Atapa Snana.

Hippocrates is sometimes credited with bringing sun therapy, then called heliosis, to Western medicine. Today, healing with sunlight is called heliotherapy (or phototherapy).

Heliotherapy

In the late 1800s, heliotherapy was used to treat certain kinds of tuberculosis, principally of the bones, skin, and joints, because extended exposure to sunlight can kill bacteria that cause the disease. Niels Ryberg Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 for his work in using UV light radiation to treat lupus vulgaris, a skin condition.

Also in 1903, Dr. Auguste Rollier opened his first “Sun Clinic” in Leysin, Switzerland. Dr. Rollier eventually became the world’s best-known heliotherapist. He operated 36 sun clinics and wrote the influential book “Heliotherapy.” By 1933, more than 165 different diseases had been successfully treated with heliotherapy.

Benefits of sun exposure

Increased production of Vitamin D is the basis of many of the benefits of sun therapy. Exposure to sunshine (or UV rays) is recommended by physicians and therapists for many physical disorders; sunlight has been used to:

  • Lower blood pressure: Studies have shown that the sun’s rays stimulate release of nitric oxide, which lowers blood pressure, into the bloodstream.
  • Improve brain function: A decrease in the level of Vitamin D  was found to negatively impact cognitive function in elderly patients.
  • Help relieve depression: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is caused by lack of exposure to the sun. Sunshine stimulates the production of serotonin, which is a natural anti-depressant.
  • Enhance sleep: Sunshine helps regulate the pineal gland’s production of melatonin, a natural hormone responsible for restful sleep.
  • Help heal some skin disorders: Research has found that eczema, psoriasis, acne, and some fungal skin infections may respond to UV light.
  • Reduce cancer risk: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduced cancer risk. Paul Fassa has compiled references on physicians and other therapists writing and speaking about the impact of sunlight on cancer.  
  • Enhance the immune system: The number of white blood cells—lymphocytes—which fight infection, increases with sun exposure.

Sources

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