Sunlight is an essential nutrient of life on this planet. Unfortunately there are myriad ways in which we separate ourselves from natural light – buildings, tinted windows, sunglasses, and sunscreen, to name a few. We have only a fraction of the exposure to natural light that our ancestors had. In recent years another obstacle has been added in the form of warnings of the link between skin cancer and overexposure to sunlight, particularly with regard to the deterioration of the protective ozone layer; yet there are real health consequences to not getting enough natural light.
Natural light is an important factor in our health by way of its stimulating effects on the hypothalamus and pineal gland and the resulting impact on our hormonal and neuroregulatory systems. “Mal-illumination,” a term coined by the photobiologist John Nash Ott, D. Sc. (Hon.), has been linked to conditions as diverse as malabsorption of certain nutrients, fatigue, tooth decay, depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), hostility, suppressed immune function, strokes, hair loss, skin damage, alcoholism, drug abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and even loss of muscle tone and strength.
Ironically, there is even evidence that extreme lack of exposure to sunlight may contribute to the form of skin cancer called melanoma, which is often associated with fears of over-exposure. A study of 4.6 million U.S. Navy personnel found that melanoma occurred most frequently in sailors who worked inside. It turns out that sunlight is needed for the body to manufacture vitamin D, which suppressesthe growth of melanoma cells. Thus it may be counterproductive for fair-skinned people, who are naturally at greater risk for melanoma, to avoid sunlight altogether.
In a similar vein, an important study published in the prestigious International Journal of Epidemiology compared the incidence of fatal ovarian cancer in northern and southern latitudes within the United States. Women living in the more southern latitudes, where they received more sunlight, were found to have a much lower likelihood of dying from ovarian cancer. It was concluded that sunlight may be a protective factor for ovarian cancer mortality, probably because of the protective action of vitamin D.
One of the little-known effects that air pollution has had on the natural environment is a reduction in light reaching the earth’s surface worldwide. The Smithsonian Institution has reported that there has been a 14 percent loss of overall light intensity over the past sixty years. Scientists at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California estimate that farmlands have lost 10 percent of average sunlight intensity and there has been a 26 percent decrease in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. This reduction in sunlight is suspected as a factor in increasing crop diseases and infestation.
William Collinge, PhD. 1998. Subtle Energy. New York: Warner Books, pp. 89-90.
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