Stolen: The sun spins through everything we do
There is a wonderful song written by Leon Littlebird called the “House of Light.” The house we live in gives us shelter, but the “House of Light” – the real house we live in – gives us light from the sun. “It spins through everything we do and connects both you and me. As he was singing this song, I was looking out the window at the lush green colors of the aspens against brilliant blue skies, and was thinking of how important the sun is. The sun gives energy to green plants, which in turn provide food for all other living things. This photosynthetic process produces carbohydrates, oxygen and water and is the beginning of the food chain.
We are all connected through the food chain, but the sunshine also affects our moods. “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy …” “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” Both these songs correlate sunshine to happiness. Certainly sunshine affects how much time people spend outside. Some people tend to feel depressed and tired on gloomy days. Many people love soaking up the sun at the beach and pool.
Sunshine is an important source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D sufficiency, along with diet and exercise, has emerged as one of the most important preventive factors in human health. Vitamin D deficiency on the other hand, is associated with higher rates of many forms of cancer‚ as well as heart disease‚ osteoporosis‚ and multiple sclerosis. We need 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Full-body sunbathing for a period of time that will just make you turn pink will produce 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D, equivalent to 100 to 200 glasses of fortified milk. Relatively few foods naturally contain vitamin D, the most abundant being oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, or cod liver oil. Relatively casual sun exposure should actually meet vitamin D needs. You probably need from 5 to 30 minutes of exposure to the skin on your face, arms, back or legs (without sunscreen) twice every week. Studies show, when exposed to the same amount of sunlight, elderly individuals produce only 20 percent of the vitamin D young adults do, and because of this more than half of individuals older than 65 are vitamin-D deficient. African-Americans require much more sun to produce the same levels of vitamin D than do fair-skinned Caucasians, due to their skin pigmentation.
Sunlight is composed of electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths, ranging from the long-wavelength infrared light to the short-wavelength ultraviolet. The ultraviolet light is further subdivided into UVA and the even shorter-wavelength UVB radiation. Although UVB causes sunburns, it is also the component that initiates vitamin-D production in the skin. The intensity of UVB rays is also reduced by clouds, pollution and UVB will not travel through glass, so sitting next to a window will not give you enough sunlight to make vitamin D. Also, no vitamin D will be generated in short-daylight months of the northern latitudes because of low levels of UVB.
The sun is revered by many cultures, and there were many sun deities in ancient cultures all around the world. Sunlight (heliotherapy) was often a part of healing and was used to treat many disorders, such as tuberculosis, rickets in children and war wounds. As milk and other foods were supplemented with vitamin D, heliotherapy faded, and its decline was greatly enhanced by the fear of acquiring skin cancer. That aside, I love sunny days, the beauty of rainbows, and the brilliant colors of sunrises, and sunsets.
Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.
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