The association between nature and health is well known. That’s why you always get bombarded with initiatives meant to preserve our environment.
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Sunlight is one of nature’s phenomenon that has been known to have a positive link with health since mediaeval times. The changing seasons, with variable daylight hours, appeared to be linked with certain disease states.
Fast forward to present times where industrialization and technology have kept us indoors more and more. It’s not been lost to keen scientific observers that limited sunlight exposure affects our body systems.
The mechanisms of sunlight’s effect on our health appear to be multifaceted. Sunlight appears to stimulate the production of certain chemicals in the brain (hormones), which play many roles in our bodies. Some of the hormones control mood and sleeping patterns.
Other hormones control how we break down foods, our energy levels and eventual body weight. Complex hormonal interactions may even influence our immunity and propensity to diseases. Those deprived of sunlight for prolonged periods may suffer from several conditions. A common phenomenon is the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), mostly observed in countries with variable seasons within the year.
Symptoms like lethargy, sadness, hopelessness and in extreme cases depression, are all observed with SAD. Modern lifestyles and working patterns, where individuals spend whole days indoors, have contributed to SAD being observed the whole year round. And not just in places where seasons change every so often.
Nevertheless, there are those who are at especially high risks for untoward health related to limited sunlight exposure. Those who work night shifts and sleep during the day are especially vulnerable. Not only do they suffer from some aspects of SAD, but they may also be more overweight due to changes in their metabolism. The knock-on effect is predisposition to other metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes. You aren’t spared either even if you work daytimes. Sitting at your desk the whole day, under artificial lighting isn’t any different.
But there are ample remedies which you can put in place to counter the effects of limited sunlight exposure. The most natural remedy is to simply get out into the sunlight as much as possible. If you are a desk person, get some breaks in between and walk into the sunshine for periodic spells. If you sit next to a window, arrange your office to allow as much natural light as possible to seep in. There are commercial light boxes that supply a blast of bright light with the same frequency as natural sunlight. These come in handy for those with fewer alternatives, or in places where wintry seasons can drag on and on.
Don’t go overboard and overexpose yourself to the sun though. Overexposure can predispose your skin to other disease conditions. Cover your skin, and use sunscreens appropriately.
— Dr Alfred Murage is a consultant gynaecologist and fertility specialist.