Sunshine or Sun-Shy?

This blog is written by Caleb Greer, FNP-C

There is a plethora of information available on the Internet about the

controversy of sunscreen, all of which discuss the pros and cons of sunscreen when

it comes to vitamin D, skin cancer, and UV light. This post will not be about those

things, but about energy and electrons as it pertains to sunlight exposure. I learned

plenty about electrons in the many chemistry courses I’ve taken over the years and

how important they are in driving reactions, both in biochemical and industrial

settings, but very little application was given to electrons in biochemistry. We learn

that energy is from a molecule called ATP, and that all of our (substantial) nutrients

are broken down to produce these units of energy. Yet, we lose sight of the fact that

these transfers are energetic in nature in an attempt to visualize and reduce such an

abstract concept into something more concrete. All life is in the hands of what are

called oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions, whereby electrons are transferred

from one molecule to another, leaving the one who lost the electron(s) oxidized and

the one who gained the electron(s) reduced. So what’s this got to do with sunlight?

I’m getting to it, just bear with me.

Almost everyone is familiar with the mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the

cell, but few recognize its importance in overall cell survival due to its authority as

the energy plant. I won’t stray off into mitochondrial responsibilities, but know they

have vast implication in all disease. Any way, all energy for all things starts with the

sun – photons are captured and redistributed among the food chain. An important

note to add here is that humans too utilize the energy from the sun, not all that far

off from Superman. Humans have specialized receptors and molecules that respond

to many different wavelengths of light, including ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR).

It is incredibly important that our bodies be exposed to the various solar spectra

that make the day, from dawn light to dusk light, because the differences in

wavelengths (visible and non-visible) are what tell our internal clocks what time it

is. When we reduce the benefit of sunlight to vitamin D production and drastically

demonize its potential to do harm there is a truncated pro-con list, with more

emphasis on the cons. There is growing evidence for the direct transfer of energy

from the photons of the sun (and other light), into our physiological organization,

which has massive consequences in our sun-shy, artificially blue-lit environment we

live in today. It is this energy that mediates redox potential, and without it there

develops an oxidized internal environment. This promotes chronic inflammation

and cellular damage, which are at the root of many diseases we see today – from

cardiovascular disease to autoimmunity.

So what can you do? Well mitochondria respond directly to infrared and

near-infrared light (the basis for laser therapy), which, through some complicated

pathways, results in greater efficiency in energy transfer and resiliency to stress.

Since incandescent and halogen bulbs have been pretty much replaced by the

fluorescent bulbs, indoor light gives virtually no red, near-infrared, or infrared light.

We are then left with sunlight as our only source, and even that is being curtailed by

the fear of the sun propagated by dermatological media. There is a reason light

therapy, laser therapy, color therapy, and other forms of beneficial electromagnetic

radiation exist. Impaired mitochondrial function is noted in almost every, if not all

disease process. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other things that effect

mitochondrial function, but sunlight plays a pretty big role. The purpose of this blog

was to suggest that the sun provides much more benefit than risk, especially

considering our current environment. It is still important not to burn, but do realize

that repeated exposure to sunlight (UV light in particular) drives the skin to produce

more protection so that subsequent exposures are better tolerated. Blocking UV

hinders the production of melanin, which is our UV absorbing pigment, making you

less resilient and more dependent on sunscreen. Peptides like Melanotan I&II are

also available to help increase skin resiliency and responsiveness to UV light.

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