By Marc Sorenson, Sunlight Institute
Sunlight and health, from the earliest human civilizations to our current battle with COVID-19, have an inseparable link. Dr. John Fielder’s exceptionally well-written paper, History of Heliotherapy, provides insight into the past. Many ancients deified sunlight. The populations of those times had no doubt of its healing powers. Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as the “father of medicine,” recommended sunbathing and had his own large solarium, an enclosed area for sunning. In addition, the ancient Romans, used thermae (hot tubs and baths) that were equipped with solaria. The Roman philosopher Pliny wrote, “Sun is the best remedy.”
Sunlight and health maintained a link well into the 20th century.
In the early 19th Century, scientists began to experiment with heliotherapy (sunlight therapy) as a healer. They were duly impressed with their results. Therefore, they attempted to build a new system of therapeutics based on heliotherapy. In 1857, Madame Duhamel exposed children with TB to sunshine because it hastened their recovery. Many other doctors also used heliotherapy with great success. Dr. Fielder said that sunbathing was so successful, all doubt as to its place in the hygienic system was ensured.”
Though nothing has really changed, regarding sunlight and health, doubts about the relationship have crept in.
In the early 20th Century, people noticed that farmers developed common skin cancers on their faces and hands. This news began the war on sunlight. Nevertheless, the sun held its own for some time, because research also showed sunlight had anti-cancer properties. This idea triggered a 1932 editorial in The Lancet medical Journal. It suggested sunlight was so effective in promoting health, that the government should reserve public areas for nude sunbathing! (Dawson, Lord. Naked and Unashamed. Lancet 6, 1932:688.)
Then, the tide began to turn. Scientists completely misrepresented the association of common skin cancers and melanoma:
Due to this egregious misrepresentation, scientists decided, regrettably, that that sunlight must cause melanoma, the deadly skin cancer. A new fear had been born, along with a new industry-sunscreen and new medical profits. Even though moderate, regular sun exposure protects against melanoma, this fear-vs-fact based decision launched an all-out assault on the sun. Moreover, it continues today. Unfortunately, it has also become ‘rewarding’ to the industry that provides tanning lotions and treatments for the cancers. View this video by Dr. Edward Gorham to learn more about this subject: Vitamin D: Skin Cancer/Sunscreen – the Dilemma.
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