Sunlight is a vital component of good health. Like plants that thrive in the sun, we humans too depend on sunlight, in our case for the production of vitamin D. In the past few decades, however, cultural trends have steered us away from sun exposure. From fear of the potential dangers of UV radiation and the heavy promotion of sunscreen products to artificial work and recreational environments centered on virtual reality, we are all spending much more time indoors and away from the sun. In THE SUNLIGHT SOLUTION: WHY MORE SUN EXPOSURE AND VITAMIN D ARE ESSENTIAL TO YOUR HEALTH (Prometheus Books, $19.98), Laurie Winn Carlson delves into benefits of sunlight and the consequences we would face without it.
In this informative overview of an often-neglected topic, Carlson examines the historical and cultural factors that have created our indoor lifestyles and the medical evidence that suggests we need to get out in the sun.
"The Sunlight Solution is a wealth of knowledge about the history of vitamin D," says Bruce W. Hollis, Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Director of Pediatric Nutritional Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. He adds, "Even I, who have studied this topic my whole career, learned a significant amount about the history. Also, the practical knowledge in this text will aid in maintaining the health of the general public."
Carlson begins by tracing the behavior patterns that have caused a shift indoors. She notes that it was common decades ago for children to spend hours playing outside. The lure of video games and computers has changed all that. Adults also live and work in the perpetual twilight of electric lighting. Though we feel comfortable, there is evidence that our bodies have not really adjusted to a lifestyle that is less than a century old. In fact, we may be suffering from the unnatural hours we work and sleep. The sun was once our wake up call. Now, alarm clocks determine the start of our days without any regard for daylight or nighttime darkness.
Dr. Michael F. Holick, of the Boston University School of Medicine says, "The reader will be enlightened by the historical perspective and how our sunphobic attitudes have resulted in this insidious vitamin D deficiency."
The production of Vitamin D from sun exposure is crucial to maintaining the body's calcium levels and is an important factor for building and repairing bones. Vitamin D is also necessary for regulating insulin, cell growth, and the immune system. Carlson explains the growing body of research that challenges government and health industry warnings against the dangers of sunlight by detailing the new benefits of Vitamin D and sun exposure scientists and researchers continue to find. An increased intake of vitamin D may help in preventing heart disease, obesity, and even cancers. There is also evidence of the sun's beneficial effects on psychological disorders such as seasonal depression or difficulty sleeping. Carlson explains why vitamin D from supplements and nutrition sources is simply not enough to fulfill our health needs.
The public has been repeatedly warned about the potential dangers of tanning and UV rays. The heavy and mandatory sunscreen use that's been promoted in recent years has affected how much beneficial sun exposure people receive when they are outdoors. Carlson discusses common misconceptions about the benefits of sunscreen and sun-avoidance. She argues for a more balanced approach to sun exposure, maintaining that although the risk of skin cancers should not be ignored, excessive avoidance of the sun can be just as risky to our health, if not more so.
Now more than ever we need to be concerned with the quality and quantity of sun exposure that we can get. Because of pollutants and changing weather patterns, fewer of the sun's rays are reaching us. The world is literally becoming a darker place. In areas of high pollution, particles in the air absorb or deflect the sun's rays, keeping them from reaching the surface of the Earth. Those rays that do reach us have been decreasing in radiation strength. The environmental affect of solar dimming on plant life, animals, and humans is a growing area of research.
THE SUNLIGHT SOLUTION provides information for people to begin incorporating the sun and its vitamin D into a healthy lifestyle. Carlson includes ways for individuals to measure their ideal level of sun exposure. She explains on a cellular level how the body creates its own vitamin D from UV light and the multiple ways it is used. The digestive process of absorbing and activating vitamin D from foods and supplements is also discussed.
Part history, part prescription, and part environmental warning, THE SUNLIGHT SOLUTION is an essential look at our vital relationship with the sun.
Laurie Winn Carlson (Dallas, OR) is an adjunct assistant professor of history at Western Oregon University and the author of twenty books including William J. Spillman and the Birth of Agricultural Economics and A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials.
Source: Lynn Pasquale