Here comes the sun: about heliotherapy

Here comes the sun: about heliotherapy

I find happiness where the sun shines. And apparently that’s an actual thing. Something called heliotherapy.

In the 18th century, sunlight was commonly prescribed by European doctors to treat infections. This sunlight therapy, also referred to as heliotherapy (Helios means sun in Greek) was introduced by a Danish physician called Niels Finsen. After noticing that the wounds of his patients healed faster when they had been exposed to sun, Finsen started treating tuberculosis using solely sunlight which turned out to be such a success that he won the Nobel Prize in 1903.

Sun Clinic
After hearing about Finsen’s success in Denmark, a Swiss doctor called Auguste Rollier opened the world’s first Sun Clinic in Leysin, in the Swiss Alps. At his most successful point, he owned 36 clinics situated on 1500 meters’ altitude. Rollier’s sunlight therapy combined with a vitamin rich diet cured patients from diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and tuberculosis. When Rollier died in 1954, his clinics closed down. That same year was the beginning of the rise of the pharmaceutical industry. In 1960, heliotherapy had faded into the background and was replaced by the miracle drug called antibiotics. From then on people’s perspective of the sun began to change very quickly. By the eighties, doctors would tell patients to stay out of the sun because it would cause skin cancer.

Friend or a foe?
Despite bad press linking sun to skin cancer, the benefits of sun exposure are still underestimated. When UVB rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol present in our skin, our bodies manufacture vitamin D. This vitamin influences every cell in your body and is one of nature’s best cancer fighters. Organs use it to repair damage, including damage from cancer cells and tumors. About 30 percent of cancer deaths, which amounts to 2 million deaths worldwide, could be prevented each year with higher levels of vitamin D. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can actually be increased by wearing sunscreens. Evidently, an epidemic of skin cancer has broken out among indoor workers. These workers get three to nine times less UV exposure than outdoor workers, yet only indoor workers have increasing rates of melanoma, and the rates have been increasing since 1940.

As with everything in life, the key is balance. The exact time you need to spend in the sun to enjoy the benefits will vary depending on where you live, the time of day, the season, altitude, your skin color and age. This could be just half an hour for someone with fair skin or a couple of hours for someone with darker skin. The key principle is to never get burned. Be aware that if you use sunscreen, you will block your body’s ability to produce vitamin D as well. Of course, it’s good to use sunscreen to avoid excessive sunlight exposure, but it’s also very beneficial (at least for a little while) to be in the sun without it to really soak up some vitamin D. The great thing about heliotherapy is that it’s accessible, it’s effective and it’s easy. You just need to go outside. No excuses.