History

Early 20th Century

In the early part of the 20th century, sun exposure was lauded by the medical community in America for its health benefits, and hospitals had rooftop solariums and outdoor porches so patients could be in the sun.  This view of sun exposure was triggered by the discovery that sun exposure cured rickets, a devastating crippling disease that had affected millions of children in America and Europe since the dawn of the industrial age.  This health benefit of  sun exposure was traced to vitamin D, a biomolecule produced in the skin by photons from the sun.

Science Progresses

In the normal progression of science, a discovery like this should have led to a flurry of scientific inquiry into other potential health benefits of sun exposure.  However, the discovery that sun exposure could induce skin cancer, together with the high prevalence of skin cancer in the transports and migrants from England, Ireland and Scotland to Australia whose white skin was well suited for the weak sun of Britain but not suited for the strong tropical sun of Australia, resulted instead in a flurry of scientific inquiry into the dangers of sun exposure, principally skin cancer, as Australia became the skin cancer capital of the world.  The first sunscreen became available in 1928, creating the first commercial interest in protection from the sun. The Australian medical community's message of sun avoidance spread to the medical communities in Europe and America.  The prevailing public health advice regarding sun exposure became, and continues to this day, avoid sun exposure when possible, seek shaded areas, wear sun-protective clothing and apply sunscreen daily even if it is a cloudy day

 

21st Century

In the beginning of the 21st century, scientific interest and research turned toward the benefits of sun exposure beyond vitamin D, or, to put it another way, the risks of insufficient sun exposure. It was well known by this time that people in the United States were experiencing less and less sun exposure every year because of migration of the workforce from outdoor to indoor work and increasing attractions of being indoors such as radio, air conditioning and television, exacerbated by the continuing advice of dermatologists and governmental health authorities to avoid sun exposure for fear of skin cancer.   

 

The amount of sun exposure received by a person can be determined by measuring the level of the biomolecule 25(OH)D in the person’s blood since 70%-90% of this biomolecule is produced by sun exposure.  Levels of 25(OH)D below 30 ng/mL indicate insufficient sun exposure, and 70% of Americans of all ages today have 25(OH)D levels below 30 ng/mL. In comparison, the few humans today still living traditional pastoral lives outdoors have 46 ng/mL.  

The situation is even worse for Black Americans, 95% of whom have 25(OH)D levels less than 30 ng/mL. Click HERE for Special Message to Black Americans.

Advances in science in the 21st century have revealed a wide range of diseases associated with insufficient sun exposure and many biomolecules in addition to vitamin D that are produced in the human body by sun exposure.  It is now known that, in addition to vitamin D, the sun’s rays produce or activate a variety of biomolecules in the human body, including nitric oxide, beta-endorphin, melatonin, serotonin, urocanic acid, dopamine, glutamate, melanin, antimicrobial peptides such as beta-defensin 2, beta-defensin 3, ribonuclease 7 and psoriasin, alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormones which have been implicated in immunologic tolerance and suppression of contact hypersensitivity, limitation of oxidative DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation and increases in gene repair, the potent calcitonin gene-related peptide which modulates a number of cytokines and is linked with impaired induction of immunity and the development of immunologic tolerance, neuropeptide substance P which produces local immune suppression, and very probably many others yet to be discovered, as well as causing various biological reactions such as photodegradation of folic acid, immunomodulation by upregulation of cytokines and increased activity of T regulatory cells that remove self-reactive T cells, photoadaptation and the effect of sunlight on circadian clocks.

 

An adequate supply of these biomolecules is essential to the proper functioning of the complex chemistry of the human body.  A shortage of these biomolecules manifests as a wide array of diseases and adverse health conditions  including multiple sclerosis, various internal cancers, heart disease,  type 2 diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, obesity, preterm birth, stomach cancer, COVID-19 and shorter life expectancy.  Vitamin D supplementation is not an adequate substitute for sun exposure.


The following is a list of some of the major scientific discoveries of the adverse effects of insufficient sun exposure since the beginning of the 21st century.   As these discoveries were made, it became obvious that the incidence of many of these adverse effects occurred more often in Black Americans than in White Americans. Click HERE for a Special Message to Black Americans. 

 

In 2002, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure decreases serotonergic activity in the brain and thereby increases the risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

 

In 2003, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of multiple sclerosis.  

In 2007, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of colon cancer by 104%.

   

In 2009, scientists discovered that: 

  • Sun exposure produces nitric oxide in the skin which gets in the blood stream and reduces blood pressure independent of vitamin D. The 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine had been awarded to scientists who discovered the importance of nitric oxide in protecting the heart, stimulating the brain and killing bacteria, but where the nitric oxide came from remained a mystery until the 2009 discovery.

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of endometrial cancer. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure adversely affects athletic performance.

 

In 2010, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of tuberculosis by 400%.

 

In 2011, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk of severe lower respiratory tract viral infection in offspring in the first year of life by 500%. 

 

In 2012, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of bladder cancer by 83%.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women adversely affects brain development of fetus and is associated with poor mental development to the extent that the chances of the infant developing an IQ over 110 are decreased by 50%.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women doubles the risk that their child will experience language difficulties.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure decreases strength, jump height, jump velocity exercise capacity and physical performance and increases inflammation and pain.

  • The prevalence of serum 25(OH)D of less than 20 ng/mL was much higher in patients with psoriasis than in persons without psoriasis, raising the possibility that insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of psoriasis, although the recalled sun exposure of the patients and the healthy controls was about the same. 

In 2013, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by 50%.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of stroke by 82%. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis by 37%. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of depression by 31% to 121%.

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk that their newborns will die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).  

  • Insufficient sun exposure quadruples the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections in premenopausal women.

  •   Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of myopia (short-sightedness).  

In 2014, scientists discovered that: 

  • 12.8% of all deaths in the United States (340,000 deaths per year) are attributable to insufficient sun exposure, establishing insufficient sun exposure as the nation’s #2 public health problem after smoking (480,000 deaths per year).

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 122%.   

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of death from breast cancer in breast cancer patients by 376%.   

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women triples the risk that male children will have asthma at age 6.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure of women in the first 26 weeks of pregnancy increases the risk of preeclampsia by 67%.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of obesity.  

 

In 2015, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of metabolic syndrome in persons 55 and older by 92%.   

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk of type 1 diabetes in their male children at ages 5-9 years by 67%. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 570% in women who have a genetic risk for AMD.  

In 2016, scientists discovered that: 

  • Sun exposure, through a mechanism separate from vitamin D production, energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity, confirming the 2011 hypothesis of a separate group of scientists that insufficient sun exposure is associated with poor immune function and increased disease susceptibility.   

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of pre-term birth by 133%.

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of stomach cancer. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) by 30%.

 In 2017, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk of having autistic children by 142%.  

 

In 2018, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk of schizophrenia in offspring by 44%.   

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of getting breast cancer by 400%. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk of childhood obesity.

 

In 2019, scientists discovered that: 

  • Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women increases the risk of learning disabilities in offspring by 82%; sun exposure in the first trimester is essential for fetal brain development.

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of incidence of acute respiratory tract infection (ARTI) from flu or colds by 83% and the risk of severity of ARTI including death by 146%. ARTI is the primary cause of death from COVID-19.

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFIB) by 23%.  

  • Insufficient sun exposure decreases the diversity of bacteria in the gut, with implications for inflammatory bowel disease. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of eczema (atopic dermatitis).

In 2020, scientists discovered that:

  • Insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of testing positive for  COVID-19 by 77%.

 

In 2021, scientists discovered that: 

  • Sun exposure produces vitamin D related lumisterol hydroxymetabolites in the human body which inhibit the viral replication machinery of COVID-19, confirming prior studies showing that sun exposure protects against COVID-19. 

  • Insufficient sun exposure is associated with a 138% increased risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 and an 84% increased risk of death from COVID-19. 

Message to Women Who are Pregnant or Planning to Become Pregnant


Lack of sufficient sun exposure during pregnancy can cause unnecessary pregnancy risks for you and can have devastating impacts on the health of your child. Here is what recent scientific studies have shown:

  1. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk that your child will have asthma.

  2. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth by 144%.

  3. Insufficient sun exposure of pregnant women and infants increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  4. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of type 1 diabetes in male children at ages 5-9 years by 67%.

  5. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of having an autistic child by 142%.

  6. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of your child developing schizophrenia by 44%.

  7. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy adversely affects brain development of the fetus and is associated with poor mental development to the extent that the chances of the infant developing an IQ over 110 are decreased by 50%.

  8. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk that your child will have learning disabilities.  Sun exposure in the first trimester is especially important for fetal brain development.

  9. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of the child developing juvenile idiopathic arthritis

  10. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of childhood obesity.

  11. Insufficient sun exposure during pregnancy increases the risk that your child will be born with low 25(OH)D. 

  12. Children with 25(OH)D less than 11 ng/mL at birth have a 104% increased risk of high blood pressure at ages 3 to 18 years, and high blood pressure at these ages in an important determinant of subsequent hypertension and cardiovascular disease later in life.

  13. Insufficient sun exposure of during pregnancy increases the risk of multiple sclerosis in offspring. Pregnant women with 25(OH)D in early pregnancy less than 12 ng/mL compared to more than 12 ng/mL have a 90% increased risk of having a child with multiple sclerosis.

  14. Insufficient sun exposure of women in the first 26 weeks of pregnancy increases the risk of severe preeclampsia by 67%. Preeclampsia in mothers resulting from insufficient sun exposure leads to high blood pressure in their children.

 
One would have thought that by no later than 2014, this explosion of scientific discoveries of the dangers of insufficient sun exposure would have caused the CDC to change its sun exposure message, but it did not. The CDC website continues to advise the American public, including Black Americans, to avoid sun exposure, and fails to make the American public aware of the health dangers of insufficient sun exposure. 

The mission of the Sunshine Health Foundation is to bring all of this 21st century science to the attention of the American public.  We believe the best way to do this, short of an advertising campaign we cannot currently afford, is to continue trying to persuade the CDC to do its job of protecting the health of Americans by stopping their anti-sun programs, making the American public aware of all the science showing the dangers of insufficient sun exposure and adopting programs to advise the public on how to get the sun exposure they need for good health and longer, happier lives. 

 

In May of 2019, the Sunshine Health Foundation hosted a meeting in Washington, D.C. of 21 of the 35 leading scientists of the world in the field of sun exposure and human health.  These scientists concluded that insufficient sun exposure had indeed become a real public health program, and 15 of them authored a paper in 2020to that effect which was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  Click HERE for a copy of that paper. 

 

Driven by the dermatologists and the CDC, the message of the medical community remains to this day to avoid sun exposure when possible, to seek shaded areas, to wear sun-protective clothing and to apply sunscreen daily even on cloudy days.  This misguided and scientifically-incorrect advice has contributed to the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of preventable cases of life-ruining diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, autism, schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis, reduced mental ability, depression and most recently long-haul COVID-19.

In The Science, we have listed the diseases and adverse conditions related to insufficient sun exposure together with references to the relevant peer-reviewed scientific papers.

 
 
 
 

Sun Exposure Should Never Involve Sunburn.

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America's second largest public health problem is insufficient sun exposure. It's responsible for 340,000 preventable deaths per year, just behind tobacco and ahead of obesity.

 

The public needs to be aware of insufficient sun exposure risks and increase daily sun exposure to improve health.

Stop fearing the sun.

Embrace sunshine.

Let's build healthier communities.