Login | February 03, 2023

Sunshine for your health

PETE GLADDEN
Pete’s World

Published: January 16, 2023

I’ve spent the past several weeks confined to the house while recovering from hip surgery, and besides going batty what with my stringent restrictions on exercises, ROM (range of motion) movements and general ambulation, I’m also beginning to feel the psychological effects of outdoor light deprivation.
Heck, I can’t remember any time in my life when I’ve been so darned housebound - and outdoor light deprived - for so darned long.
Indeed, mine has been a firsthand perspective on how outdoor light deprivation can negatively affect mood. Yet as I’ve come to learn, it’s far more than mood that outdoor light deprivation impacts, its impact on physical health is even more substantial.
So let’s start with that physical (bodily) side of this light deprivation discussion. Now besides the obvious - that we should avoid spending too much tine outside in the sun without protection - there’s many decade’s worth of research data that indicates “prudent” outdoor sun exposure as a necessity for good health, a fact that most everyone takes as gospel.
But do we actually understand why outdoor sunshine has such positive influence on our bodies?
Well, it goes like this.
When skin is exposed to sunlight, that UV radiation prompts our cells into converting the molecule 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D. And getting 10 to 30 minutes of quality sun exposure several times a week can allow enough D production to fulfill our bodily needs.
But for folks living in the northern latitudes, and/or for many of us here in the Northeast during winter, such an amount of sun exposure can become harder to achieve what with shorter and cloudier days.
So that’s why it’s critical to supplement D with foods (like salmon, sardines, egg yolks, mushrooms and liver), with D-fortified products like milk and cereal or with D vitamins.
Now I say critical because D plays a huge role in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the bloodstream, which is vital for bone health.
Without the proper amount of daily D, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 international units (IU), such maladies as bone density loss, osteoporosis, and broken bones become more probable. What’s more, D functions as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, thereby helping to support the immune system in warding off infections.  
Okay, so since I haven’t been able to get in any outdoor sun-time during my bout of indoor confinement, I’ve made it a point to get my daily D from foods and multi-vitamins, so no problem there. But how about my occasional bouts of despondency, is there actually any evidence to support the supposition that sun deprivation can negatively affect mental health?
Well, as it turns there’s plenty of evidence to support that. For instance, in the July 2009 edition of the Environmental Journal, the study, Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study, found “an association between decreased exposure to sunlight and increased probability of cognitive impairment.”
There’s also another interesting study, this one in the 2016 Journal of Affective Disorders, Sunshine on my shoulders: Weather, pollution, and emotional distress, that concluded, “Seasonal changes in sun time were found to best account for relationships between weather variables and variability in mental health distress.”
These and a host of other studies have been able to link cases of sun deprivation to negative mood swings, and this linkage can be further corroborated by biochemical studies which indicate a relationship between sunlight and the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that aids in the regulation of sleep and emotions.
Sun exposure can be thought of as a signal to the brain to produce more serotonin, and conversely, during long sunless periods the brain receives much less signaling so there’s a reduction in serotonin levels. And too little serotonin can lead to seasonal effective disorder (SAD).
Okay, I’m willing to bet that SAD explains my current bout of mental funk, but fortunately this six-week stretch of in-home confinement’s nearly over - and I’ll soon be back in the light.
So take it from me, the lack of sun exposure can most definitely lead to a SAD encounter…not to mention bodily deficiencies without the deliberate ingestion of D rich foods and/or D vitamins.
Have yourself a very healthy - and sunny - 2023.




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