Sunshine Boosts Immunity
(no.29) There's a sun app that that could help you live longer. Plus, Donovan from 50 years ago. By Stephen P. Williams
(The heart above is thirsty for your love; please touch it)
But first, this: According to Canadian Reader’s Digest, your sex life might get very hot in your 40s; that’s also when you should learn to recognize the signs of a heart attack.
Sunlight can boost your immune system. Simple as that.
Photo by Laura Pratt on Unsplash
I’m amazed by our incredibly complex immune system, and how well it is designed to protect, defend and further our lives. I’m also in awe of The Virus, with its astoundingly efficient means of reproduction and expansion. But I don’t want to praise these two warriors in the same room, cause they seem to trigger each other. I’d rather that our collective immune systems would disinvite the virus from our lives altogether.
Unfortunately, as a person ages their immune system tends to weaken and become more vulnerable to invading viruses, bacteria and other infections. Given this weakening, and the current viral threat, it might be wise to take steps to keep your immune system as strong as possible. There are many supposed immune boosters in the marketplace — from high priced New Zealand grown Manuka Honey to actual bee stings. (I’m not sure about the honey, but there’s evidence the stings do work.) Still, most “immune boosters,” aren’t effective, sorry to say.
But there’s a free immune booster available to all of us that works wonderfully. It’s called light.
First, the bad news about sunlight. Since the 70s, ultraviolet light (an invisible electromagnetic radiation that arrives with sunlight and also from tanning lamps, black lights and other sources) has been linked to skin cancer. We all know we should limit our sun exposure, and I’m not going to lecture you about wearing hats, sunscreen and avoiding the midday sun. Because then I’d have to lecture myself, and I don’t want to hear it — even if I should. I can’t help but go out in the sun, exposed, perhaps because I instinctively know that vitamin D encourages our bodies to make serotonin, aka the happiness and serenity hormone. I can use as much serotonin as I can produce, especially these days. Still, I’m not saying we need to lie naked all afternoon on the roof deck. Not that I would know.
Good news about light
Nearly nude sunbathing at Le Jardin du Luxembourg, in Paris. Photo by Marie-Sophie Tékian on Unsplash
Curiously, because UV light can sterilize surfaces, some tout it as a way to control the coronavirus in public places. And for quite a while now, UV phototherapy has successfully treated some dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, jaundice and vitiligo. Here are some other immune system benefits of sunlight:
Sunlight may lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, by encouraging the skin to create nitric oxide.
Sunshine encourages our bodies to produce vitamin D. Even without shelter-in-place orders, many Americans spend most of their time indoors. That means over half of us don’t produce enough vitamin D, according to Dr. Michael Holick, a professor of medicine at Boston University. And that’s a problem, because too little vitamin D can weaken our body’s ability to fight off infections. Supplements can help, and if you are overweight, take a higher dose. One recent preliminary study from East Anglia University, in the UK, found that vitamin D deficiencies seems to exasperate the symptoms of COVID-19. I’ve been taking daily supplements throughout the pandemic, and also walk in the sun as often as possible. Today I did 4.5 miles, and I felt great.
For a long time I’ve known that exposure to sunlight early in the morning causes your body to produce hormones that help you sleep at night (exposure to light at night, even incandescent bulbs, has the opposite effect). So take a walk in the morning and let the sun shine in to your eyes, which is where the light-hormone information exchange takes place.
(Do not, however, look straight into the sun — great potential for harm. I don’t feel I absolutely have to warn you about this, but then again, one of my first writing jobs was at a place that published a recipe for almond face cream. It called for pulverizing one cup of raw almonds in a food processor. One reader didn’t shell the almonds before blending, and when she rubbed the cream into her face the shell fragments lacerated the skin. She sued us, and won. So I’ve learned to be careful.)
Because I’m sure you need another app, you might check out D Minder Pro created by Dr. Michael Holick, a professor of medicine at Boston University. Supposedly, the app will tell you how much sun you are getting, and convert that into how much vitamin D your body is making. It will also tell you when you’ve had too much sun, which would be a problem, because too much sun will damage your cells and actually reduce your immunity.
D Minder Pro, for vitamin D on the go
Another preliminary study, at Georgetown University Medical Center, found that sunlight — apart from any vitamin D production — is central to immunity. Low levels of blue light, found in sunshine, activate T cells under the skin to move faster and spread through the body, improving immunity. Blue light is not on the UV spectrum that causes skin cancer, and if you don’t want to go in the sun you can sit under a blue light lamp indoors.
What about wrinkles? Eye damage? Skin spots and other damage (aside from skin cancer)? Yes, all of these are associated with sunlight, and tend to get more serious as we age. I can see the effects of sunlight on my own skin, which reads like a map of the Sahara desert, with dunes and crevices and deep shaded areas below outcroppings of boulders. I would not be surprised to find a camel on my next glance down. So yes, take care in the sun. Get some sun, but not too much. Boost your immunity without damaging it. It’s a balance. And I know you can find it.
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This looks like a parody of 60s television, but no.
Me, in the sun today, NYC
thank you. Stephen@thenexteverything.net