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The benefits of sunshine aren't all in the Vitamin D. Sunlight has many other benefits for our bodies. Let's find out what the sun can do for you, and how you can make the most of it this summer.

Hip, hip hooray. The sun has finally got its hat on. We can discard our winter-woollies (it only took 'til July!) and break out our shorts, garden chairs, and ice-lolly making kits. With the new, warmer weather, we're all feeling brighter and tempted to catch some summer sun.

But isn't that bad? Isn't skin cancer lurking in every sunny ray, waiting to kill us?

Maybe not. Recent research suggests that, even taking the risk for skin cancer fully into account, sunshine has some vital health giving benefits that help protect us against damaging and disabling conditions, and may help us all live longer, healthier lives.  

Discussions about the health benefits of the sunlight frequently focus on Vitamin D. However, this new research suggests that not all health benefits are related to Vitamin D.

Here, we look at how the sun can help you feel great (and explore how you can take care when catching those rays).

Healthier Heart

Exposure to the sunlight prompts the release of nitric acid in our bodies. Nitric oxide is key for keeping your veins dilated, allowing blood to flow smoothly, making it essential for heart health. Since 1880, it was a key ingredient in Nitroglycerin, one of the earliest medications to control heart diseases such as angina and high blood pressure. Thus, getting more sun may help protect your cardiovascular system.

Better Mood

Sunlight promotes the release of feel-good neurotransmitter, Serotonin. Low Serotonin is linked to depression, panic, anxiety, and even anger. That's why our most common antidepressants, SSRIs, are designed to boost Serotonin levels in the brain.

By boosting Serotonin, the production of new brain cells is triggered, which in time helps the depression to lift.

Better Sleep

Getting some sun during the day may improve your sleep by helping to regulate your biorhythms. Sun exposure enters the eye and strikes the retina. Our brain-cells detect natural light and tell our bodies to either wake up or go to sleep. By regulating these biorhythms, you may start to find it easier to sleep when there is an absence of natural light.

A well-regulated body clock, and better sleep, is better for our overall health. Bad sleep leads to a poor immune system. With compromised immunity, we are invaded by every cold and flu. Hormones are disturbed. We suffer more stomach problems. We suffer low mood, poor memory, and bad concentration. Our relationships suffer, and work becomes problematic.

Lesson: we need our sleep. So try to get a little sun.

Better Kids' Eyesight

The Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Vision Science found kids who spend most of the day inside have a significantly increased incidence of "high myopia" (a severe type of short-sightedness, where the eyeballs are abnormal). A lack of the brain-chemical Dopamine is believed to be responsible. Sunshine hitting the retina releases Dopamine, which makes eyeballs grow to normal-size, preventing this condition.

Sunshine: more than just a pretty face.

Relieves Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition where pain spreads all over the muscles and joints of the body. The pain can be widespread, destabilising and debilitating. It is incurable, however, some success has been had treating fibromyalgia with sun therapy.

It's believed this pain relief is caused by the UV rays. A 2009 study at Wake Forest Baptist gave 19 patients with fibromyalgia controlled sessions on sunbeds for fifteen minutes a week for six weeks: half used UV sunbeds, half didn't. The half who used UV sunbeds reported a "slight" reduction in pain.

Could Protect Against Multiple Sclerosis

Patients with Multiple Sclerosis sometimes say they feel better in the summer, finding their symptoms abating when the weather gets warmer.. The sunshine may be responsible for the improvement. For years, we all thought the protection sunlight provides against Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was all about the Vitamin D.

Recently, we've begun to think again. MS is an autoimmune disorder, where the body attacks its own tissue. A recent animal study looked at the animal equivalent experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). In this study, lab animals were exposed to UV light. It was found that, though their Vitamin D only rose slightly, there was a significant reduction in the activity of the disease, suggesting Vitamin D is not solely responsible for the benefits patients with MS feel in the summer months.

Of course, this is only one study (and an animal study, at that) so we should be cautious about drawing too many conclusions.

Keeps You Slim

UV light suppresses obesity. This is because it triggers the release of nitric acid, which helps insulin work properly. If insulin doesn't work properly, blood glucose can't be effectively utilised. If glucose is not used, it is moved to the liver, where it becomes triglycerides and is stored as fat. Lack of insulin doesn't only lead to more fat in the body, it also lets diabetes set in.

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