1. Sunshine And It’s Role In Human Health
1.1 History of Sunbathing
Throughout recorded and unrecorded time (history and prehistory), humans have made use of the beneficial effects of the sun. Playing and/or relaxing in its illuminating rays have been as much a part of natural living as the procuring of food and water or any other necessity of human life. Indeed, humans originally existed without clothing on any part of their body and were sun-kissed throughout the years of their lifespan.
Positive evidence of the use of the sunbath is offered to us by many of the ancient civilizations. It is known that the Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans all were aware of the hygienic use of the sun and equipped their cities with sun gardens for this purpose. Akhenaton of Egypt, Zoraster of Persia and Hippocrates of Greece all looked upon the sun as a great force and worshipped it as a god. An example of this worship is given to us by the Egyptians, whose first temple was erected in honor of their sun god. It was located in a city called On, east of the Nile, and its name was later changed to Heliopolis—City of the Sun.
The ancients knew of the effects the sun had on strengthening the body, including the muscles and nerves, and extensive instructions were given in this regard by Herodotus. The Romans applied this knowledge in the training of their gladiators, giving them regular sunbaths. It is also known from the writing of Philostratus that the Olympian athletes were required to take sunbaths.
In the old German epic poem, the Edda, we learn of the hygienic use the Germans made of the sunshine, carrying their sick to the sunny mountain slopes for exposure to its rays. An account has also been recorded regarding the Incas of Peru using the sunbath in the treatment of syphilis.
In the third century, A.D., Mithraism, or sun worship, came very close to being accepted as the universal religion. It was very similar to Christianity in many essential respects. The final triumph of Christianity practically ended the sunbath, even though it was so widely employed by the peoples of that time. The sunbath was viewed by Christians as a “pagan” ritual. This condemnation of the sunbath could be considered the beginning of an era known as the Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, where and when many of the desirable features of ancient civilization were destroyed and replaced by an antinatural philosophy and culture. During this thousand-year reign, only the Jewish and Arabian physicians preserved the sunbath in their care of the sick.
Regarding the modern phase of sunbathing, there was a dual origin—one of these in Europe, the Other in the United States. First we shall discuss the European phase: Waldvogel, of Bohemia, advocated sunbathing as far back as 1755, but he had few, if any, followers. Madame Duhamel, in 1857, believed in the use of the sunbath to aid children in their recovery from tuberculosis. Dr. Lahmann of Germany employed the “Sun and Air Cure” in his institution, as did Bilz in his world-famous sanitarium, as early as 1872-73. But the person who is given credit as the originator of the modern practice of sunbathing is Arnold Rikli, who prescribed sunbaths to his patients at his institution, established at Weldes Krai on the Adriatic Sea in 1855. He wrote seven books describing his methods, the principal ones being translated into the Spanish, French and Italian languages.
The first series of observations relating to the effects of sunlight on disease were made by Dr. Loncet of Lyons, France, about 1890-1900. In 1911, Dr. Rollier, a Swiss physician, also did some work in this area. Both of these people enjoyed favorable results, and, as a result, sunbathing has continued to grow in popularity in all parts of Europe.
One last name should be mentioned, that of Dr. Finsen of Denmark, whose comparative experiments with the rays of both sunlight and artificial light became largely responsible for the vast array of artificial lighting apparatus used in the treatment of disease.
In the United States, the first advocate of sunbathing was Sylvester Graham, a pioneer hygienist, who not only discussed the importance of sunshine, but also the detrimental effects of clothing. He presented his ideas in his masterful work, “Lectures on the Science of Human Life,” first published in 1843, stressing the benefits of sunshine on bone growth and development.
Another hygienist, Dr. Russell Trall, placed great emphasis upon the power of sunlight in both health and disease. His writings, published around the mid-nineteenth century, clearly show a deep awareness and understanding of the need for sunlight and its value in cases of rickets, scrofula and anemia.
Although credit is generally given to Huldschinsky, who in 1919 proved the definite value of sunshine in overcoming rickets, Dr. Trail was actually about seventy years ahead of him in making this discovery. Additionally, Dr. James C. Jackson and Dr. Dio Lewis both used the sunbath in caring for their patients at around the same time as Dr. Trail. These facts point out that these individuals were using the sunbath previous to Dr. Loncet’s observations as to the effects of sunlight in disease between 1890-1900. Actually, the sunbath has been employed in this country for over a hundred years, especially among the pioneer hygienists who have not received their due recognition.
1.2 The Use Of Sunshine
Both plants and animals make use of the catalytic powers of sunlight, attaining the highest form of their development in the neighborhood of the equator, where the sun’s rays are most abundant. At the equator, life exists in greatest profusion, but as we approach the higher latitudes, where nights are longest throughout the many winter months, we notice life consists of poorly-developed forms or is absent altogether.
Sunlight is an essential nutritive factor to both plant and animal life. Under its influence, plants both excrete and absorb oxygen. Their leaves are able to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into plant substances by transforming the carbon dioxide into formaldehyde. This in turn is polymerized to sugar, thus forming a carbohydrate. This is the process of photosynthesis, and both chlorophyll and xanthophyll are associated with this process, making the green color of plant life.
Additionally, the conversion of starch into sugar during the ripening process of fruits requires the action of both the heat and light of the sun for perfection. The beautiful coloring of the flowers, stems, leaves and fruits of plants are all dependent oh sunlight for their production. When deprived of it, the result is an inferior plant, pale or colorless, that is said to be etiolated.
The colors of butterflies, birds and animals are also determined by light, as is their complete development. An example of this was given by Dr. Trail. He pointed out that in the tadpole the process of metamorphosis is arrested if it is deprived of sunlight. It is unable to develop into a frog; rather, it continues to grow as a tadpole. Complete absence of light results in blindness and even eyelessness.
Sunlight also enables the animal body to assimilate calcium, and it is because of this that it is of great value in the prevention of rickets and tuberculosis. A lack of calcium is associated with both of these conditions. This assimilation of calcium may be observed by comparing chicken eggs of various birds. Those raised in the sunlight produce harder and thicker shells than those not so exposed.
The influence of sunlight is also intimately related to the number of red cells and hemoglobin in the blood. An insufficiency of light will cause an increase in the serum or watery portion of the blood and a corresponding decrease in the quantity of blood fibrin and red Corpuscles, resulting in anemia. But with sufficient sunlight, the oxygen-carrying power of the blood is increased, the circulation of the blood is improved, and consequently the, blood’s power to repair and build tissue is increased. Sunlight’s influence on the muscles is to add to their size and quality and to enhance their contractile powers by improving the condition of the entire body, including the nerves that control the muscles. In addition, by improving the overall health and vitality of the body, sunshine is the finest cosmetic, helping the body to smooth away wrinkles, to strengthen and tone the skin, and, at the same time, to insure a soft, delicate texture and overall beauty. It may also be said that, in general, the pigmented skin is stronger, contributes to the health of the entire organism and, therefore, is subject to fewer diseases, and is less sensitive to heat and cold.
Regarding the pregnant mother and her unborn child, it must be noted that the benefits to be derived from sunlight are greatest during periods of development and rapid gains in flesh. Sunshine, again, by improving overall health and vitality, aids in, the skeletal development of the baby and helps preserve the normal alkalinity of his/her blood. Additionally, its influence on the unborn will aid in promoting sounder sleep; deeper, slower breathing; diminished blood pressure; and an increase in urinary excretion. Sunbaths before and after childbirth will increase the mother’s ability to nurse her child, with an improvement in the quality of the milk. It will produce better general health in the mother and prevent the loss of blood, making for a more painless delivery. Another benefit is that pregnant mothers who get sunlight will not experience tiredness, backaches and loss of appetite.
1.3 Sunshine in Sickness
It has been shown that after a fast or a wasting illness, obtaining sufficient sunshine will enable the body to build higher quality flesh. It will also enable the body to most efficiently digest and assimilate food. This is not to imply that we should wait to become sick to make use of the sun’s rays. The sun is not a therapeutic agent; it is an essential of good health and nutrition. Sunlight is of value in all states and conditions of the body and in all stages of development. Its importance must be relegated to that of hygiene, and it should not be thought of as a specific “cure” for a disease condition.
We spoke earlier of the great importance sunlight plays in proper bone development. This is due to the
fact that only through the aid of sunlight, particularly the ultraviolet rays, may the laying down and fixation of the calcium and phosphorus salts be accomplished in an ideal fashion as to make for the transformation of cartilage into bone. On the other hand, when insufficient sunlight is obtained, the result is defective, misshapen, brittle and easily broken bones, a condition known as rickets.
Sunlight also proves invaluable in cases of glandular inactivity, favorably affecting irregularities of ovulation, pubertal difficulties and impotency. Acne, a condition representing a glandular disturbance of the skin, is also noticeably aided by sunlight, as is the condition of psoriasis. Also, as sunshine aids in increasing the coagulating power of the blood, it is of inestimable value to sufferers from uterine hemorrhage. Additionally, if cautiously applied, the sunbath can be very valuable in some nervous affections.
1.4 Suntan and Sunburn
Suntanning is the bronzing or browning of the skin due to a deposit of pigment or melanin granules around the nuclei of the epidermal and basal cells. This process of pigmentation is the most important protecting mechanism against sunburn because it prevents the overabsorption of ultraviolet rays.
Just as chlorophyll is formed as a light screen in plants, humans deposit a brown pigment, called melanin, when in the presence of sunlight. This pigment deposit absorbs the visible and ultraviolet rays, converts them into rays of less energy and lower vibration, and then passes them onto the deeper cells of the epidermis. A combination of the infrared and ultraviolet rays will result in the deepest pigmentation.
It must be understood in this context that the sun’s rays do not produce pigment; rather, they occasion its formation. Pigmentation is a physiological process, pigment being manufactured within the body from the elements of food and deposited in the skin by the processes of life. The tanning process is totally dependent upon the body’s ability to make use of the sun. A lack of response may commonly be seen in cases of leukoderma, where the white patches of skin fail to produce pigment.
The second protective mechanism the body uses against too much sunshine is a thickening of the corneum, the uppermost layer of skin. This process is undesirable, as it results in harsh, dry, coarse skin. It is largely to avoid this dryness that olive oil and other commercial preparations are used on the skin, but it is )far wiser to avoid excessive exposure by retreating to the shade.
We must distinguish between suntan and sunburn. This latter is a true burn and injures the skin just as if it was fire or scalding water. An inflammatory process results and may be accompanied by severe blisters, general discomfort, and later a peeling of the dead tissue. As in other burns, there are three degrees of sunburn. A first degree burn produces redness due to an excess of blood in the skin, causing much or little discomfort, depending upon the severity of the burn. In second-degree burns, the skin becomes intensely red and painful to the touch and may be accompanied by diarrhea, fever and/or vomiting. Blisters may develop and then burst, discharging their fluid contents over the body. There is also much itching and finally peeling of the skin. A third-degree burn results in a sloughing dermatitis and may end in death. Complications may develop, such as inflammation of the brain, stomach and intestines; blood poisoning; and hemorrhages.
1.5 The Sunbath
Sunbaths play a vital role in the life processes of human nutrition, the tanning process being coincident with them. There is a tendency to overexpose the skin to acquire a “good tan,” and this should be avoided, as it will enervate the body, lessening the value of the sunbath.
The untanned body should begin with exposure to the solar rays of about ten minutes a day and increase gradually until an hour or more may be taken without harm. Too much sun will result in restlessness and decreased nerve tone. Additional precaution must be taken by blond and red-haired people, as they do not pigment as readily as dark-haired people. Heliophobes, those individuals who redden and blister and are cautioned to stay out of the sun, should still take sunbaths but do so for short periods during the early morning or late afternoon hours to avoid large amounts of ultraviolet rays.
The sunbath should be taken in an entirely nude state or with scanty attire, preferably without glasses or hats, as the eyes and hair also benefit. Sunglasses render the eyes more sensitive to the sunlight and ultimately impair the vision, whereas it has been found that gazing directly into the sun greatly benefits weak eyesight. It is also known that sunlight accelerates the growth of hair.
Suntan lotion or olive oil on the skin is unnecessary and should not be used. These will prevent all the ultraviolet rays from being absorbed and will inhibit the oil-secreting glands of the body from working properly. They will not prevent the injurious effects of excessive sunbathing, nor will they provide for a uniform tan. Remember, it is not mere tanning that we seek, but a general revitalizing of the entire organism, not confined to the skin alone.
Suntan lotion or olive oil on the skin are unnecessary and should not be used. These will prevent all the ultraviolet rays from being absorbed and will inhibit the oil-secreting glands of the body from working properly. They will not prevent the injurious effects of excessive sunbathing, nor will they provide for a uniform tan. Remember, it is not mere tanning that we seek, but a general revitalizing of the entire organism, not confined to the skin alone.
If the sunbath is taken at the beach, additional caution must be exercised, as the reflection from the sand and water cause more sun rays to strike the body. Thus, burning will result more quickly. Neither a thin haze over the sun nor a cool breeze will prevent the ultraviolet rays from reaching us. It is important to understand in this context that it is not the sun’s heat from which we benefit (except secondarily on a cold day), but rather its light. The hot sun is very exhausting and should be avoided, and like other animals we should instinctively seek the shade at these times.
Those people living in colder climates must take advantage of the warmer months to secure an ample
supply of sun-made reserves to carry them through sunless periods. This is not to say that the body stores up sunshine, but rather it stores up substances produced with the aid of sunshine to be used in times of stringency. Along with vitamin D, other materials are synthesized in the body with the aid of the sun’s rays. These body reserves will be adequate as long as the general mode of living throughout the year is not enervating. All forms of excesses, dissipation of the emotions, lack of rest and sleep, sexual excesses, overwork and/or an improper diet will waste these reserves.
Some additional precautions should be noted in the case of invalids or generally weak individuals. If the sunbath leaves the person feeling weak or depressed or with an increase in any of his/her symptoms, then it has been overdone. Fever, headache, weariness, loss of appetite and sleeplessness may all be considered signs of excess. In those individuals suffering from asthma or tuberculosis, a difficulty in breathing may be experienced. Nervous patients may not be able to sleep due to a stimulating effect caused by too much sun. The end result for securing the sunbath should be to produce a better feeling in the individual, not worse. A person’s need for sunlight is dependent upon their ability to make use of these light rays. Overindulgence of the sunbath will lend to additional enervation and serves no useful purpose.