It’s common knowledge that plants require sunlight for photosynthesis, a biological process which is essential to their growth — but did you know the sun also provides significant health benefits to humans?
Despite numerous risks associated with prolonged exposure to the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays (sunburn, skin damage, skin cancer and more, according to the Mayo Clinic), the sun is actually vital to a number of the human body’s functions.
Here’s how the sun helps you produce one of the 13 essential vitamins, as well as several other important benefits it provides.
Which vitamin comes from the sun?
Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D. While this essential vitamin doesn’t come directly from sunlight, it does help transform chemicals already in your skin, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The energy your body receives from the sun converts chemicals in your skin to vitamin D3, which is then hydroxylated in your liver and kidneys to become active vitamin D, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.
Once it is adequately prepared by your body, vitamin D helps your gut absorb calcium, which increases bone health and can prevent muscle cramps and spasms, according to the NIH. Vitamin D also reduces inflammation, supports the immune system and helps with glucose metabolism.
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency can cause problems for your body and make you more susceptible to certain diseases. In children, a lack of vitamin D can cause rickets, a now-rare bone disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing, and adults without sufficient vitamin D can face bone diseases such as osteomalacia or osteoporosis.
Nonwhite populations are especially at risk for vitamin D deficiency, as pigmentation can drastically reduce vitamin D production in the skin.
Although doctors disagree about the efficacy of vitamin D supplements for the average person, those who need more vitamin D can add fatty fish, liver and fortified foods to their diets, according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Fish that are a good source of vitamin D include salmon, swordfish, tuna and sardines. You can also look for orange juice, milk and cereals fortified with vitamin D at your grocery store.
The Mayo Clinic suggests vitamin D supplements for those who cannot get enough vitamin D from the sun or their diet.
But taking tons of vitamin D supplements won’t make you healthier if you are already getting enough vitamin D from your diet and the sun. If your body has too much vitamin D, your blood calcium levels could increase, causing nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dehydration, confusion and more, according to Healthline.
Other health benefits of sunshine
Vitamin D isn’t the only health benefit you get from the sun. Numerous other benefits to sun exposure have been reported.
For example, sunlight triggers your body to produce serotonin, which can improve your mood, emotions, appetite and digestion, according to PBS North Carolina.
Serotonin is also necessary to produce melatonin, according to PBS North Carolina, which means spending time in the sun during the day can help you fall asleep easier at night.
The same melatonin that helps you fall asleep can also reduce your stress levels, according to SelectHealth.
Sunlight might even help you keep excess weight off. A study published in the Public Library of Science in 2014 also links weight loss with morning sunlight exposure.
By Jacob Livesay / USA Today