For many years we have been told to avoid sunlight, especially between the hours of 10:00 and 16:00. Our weather forecasts often  include information on  prevailing  UV radiation levels in order to caution us against being overexposed to the rays of the sun. In this podcast I’m going to take a brief look at the positive effects that sunlight has on human health. We call this Heliotherapy – and it’s free medicine!

Heliotherapy or sun therapy has been used in medicine for thousands of years. Sunlight was successfully used in the treatment of TB long before the discovery of antibiotics. Other diseases such as rickets respond positively to heliotherapy as do certain mood disorders.

You are no doubt aware of the importance of Vitamin D, and that sunlight plays a key role in the natural production of this crucial vitamin. The action of sunlight on skin leads to the endogenous or  natural production  of vitamin D , a biochemical compound essential for the optimal functioning of cells throughout the body.

Vitamin D or more correctly vitamin D3, is  not actually a vitamin in the true sense of the word. It’s a unique and potent hormone  that owes its existence to the action of sunlight, i.e. UV light, on the cholesterol in the skin. Yes, you heard correctly,  the other dreaded ‘C’ word – cholesterol.

As the synthesis of vitamin D3 requires UV light, and as sunlight is the most natural source of UV light, we need to spend time in the sun in order to boost our vitamin D3 levels. The trouble is that most of us don’t do this, and so using vitamin D3 supplements becomes more than just  an option.

In the opinion of some experts, an adequate vitamin D3 level can reduce the risk of premature death from disease by about 50% and some experts tell us that the prevalence of breast cancer could be reduced by up to 90% provided women got their D3 levels up high enough.

Research shows that we should aim to get our vitamin D3 level to between 40 and 80ng/ml and that these levels are associated with “substantially lower incidence rates of colon, breast, ovarian, renal, pancreatic, aggressive prostate and other cancers”- so say the authors of a medical journal article on the role of the vitamin in cancer prevention in 2009.  [Ann Epidemiol. 2009 Jul;19(7):468-83]

It appears that an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin K2 together with  vitamin D3 enhances its  therapeutic  and preventative effects. Dairy products  are a good source of bioavailable calcium, while Kefir and cheese have the added benefit of being rich in vitamin K2 as well as a good source of calcium.

We can take Vitamin D supplements to boost our Vitamin D levels but there are many other health benefits associated with heliotherapy that no supplement, or even food, can provide.

Sunlight does much more than modify the capillaries in our skin and stimulate the production of Vitamin D: it also has positive effects on our internal organs at both physiological and nutritional levels.  

Our bodies are adapted to sunlight and to very specific lighting conditions. For example, light, and especially sunlight, plays a significant role in modulating the circadian rhythm. Bright sunlight followed by low level fire light and finally darkness, has driven our circadian clock for many thousands of years.

It is a fact that modern life has led to the disruption of our natural exposure to light, and sometimes with dire consequences. Our ‘desensitisation’ to natural sunlight, through a lack of exposure coupled with the widespread use of sun screening agents,  may be one of the reasons why the prevalence of serious forms skin cancer has increased in modern times.

Knowledge is power and so, as Swiss heliotherapy expert Dr Auguste Rollier  suggest,  start with just a few minutes of exposure in early spring and slowly build up to no more than 30 minutes per day.  Avoid over exposure and never burn.  Being cautious is thus key when it comes to harnessing the natural goodness of the sun.  

If you would like to know what you Vitamin D3 level is, all you need is a simple and inexpensive blood test. Speak to your doctor about having the test done and about appropriate supplementation should this be indicated. However, doing it the natural way is always best and so help yourself to some of the free Vitamin D3  medicine that is available to you each time you go into the sunlight.

If you would like to know more about Vitamin D or if you have any questions on this podcast please don’t hesitate to email me at askdrhill@upforit.co.za

I’m Dr Peter Hill for UpForIt: till next time stay healthy and safe