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Using Sunlight to Sustain Life



by Raymond Peat, Ph.D., Ray Peat's Newsletter -- from:


Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, June 1996, Page 83 - 85



Q: You mention sunlight as beneficial to your health. How?


For example, it can cure depression, improve immunity, stimulate

our metabolism while decreasing food craving, and increase our



Although exposure to sun does contribute to aging of the skin,

people who spend years working outdoors have a reduced incidence of

cancer of internal organs. For many years, it has been known that

the death rate increases during the winter months and also

increases at night (winter or summer). Most deaths occur just

before dawn when the body is in its least efficient state. It is

just in the last few decades that we have been learning the reasons

for this beneficial effect of light. It turns out that daylight

stimulates our ability to use oxygen for energy production, and

protects our tissues from some of the free-radical toxins that are

produced by normal metabolism, by stress, or by radiation.


While ultraviolet light, and even blue light, tend to suppress our

cells' ability to produce energy, those types of light penetrate

only a short distance into living tissue, and so it is mainly the

skin which is damaged by too much sunlight. Since blood does

circulate in the layers of skin which receive ultraviolet rays,

prolonged sun exposure can damage the immune system by injuring

white blood cells, but usually the stimulating effect of the other

types of light that penetrate more deeply offset this effect on the

immune system.


Many health food stores are now selling melatonin, to reduce sleep

and " prevent cancer. " They have taken some information out of

context, and don't realize how dangerous melatonin is. It makes

the brain sluggish, causes the sex organs to shrink, and damages

immunity by shrinking the thymus gland. It is the hormone of

darkness and winter, and is produced in the pineal gland by any

stress which increases adrenalin. Adequate sun light suppresses

the formation of melatonin.


This means that the immune system is most responsive in the summer,

when days are long. Daylight stops the stress reaction, and

protects our immune system.



Q: Doesn't exposure to the sun age you?


This effect is variable, and depends on our hormones and diet.


The unsaturated oils have been identified as a major factor in skin

aging. For example, two groups of rabbits were fed diets

containing either corn oil or coconut oil, and their backs were

shaved, so sunlight could fall directly onto their skin. The

animals that ate corn oil developed prematurely wrinkled skin,

while the animals that ate coconut oil didn't show any harm from

the sun exposure. In a study at the University of California,

photographs of two groups of people were selected, pairing people

of the same age, one who had eaten an unsaturated fat rich diet,

the other who had eaten a diet low in unsaturated fats. A panel of

judges was asked to sort them by their apparent ages, and the

subjects who consumed larger amounts of the unsaturated oils were

consistently judged to be older than those who ate less, showing

the same age-accelerating effects of the unsaturated oils that were

demonstrated by the rabbit experiments.


While it is important to avoid overexposure to ultraviolet light,

the skin damage that we identify with aging is largely a product of

our diet.



Q: Don't you have to avoid sunlight because of skin cancer?


The type of skin cancer which is clearly caused by sunlight is a

relatively harmless type of cancer, which appears only in

sun-damaged skin. Melanoma, which is often called a skin cancer,

because it sometimes begins in moles, does not have such a simple

relationship to sunlight, and its incidence is significantly

increased by the use of estrogen.


It is often said that the great increase in deaths from melanoma

during the last 60 years has been caused by an increased popularity

of sunbathing, but during the same time there has been a great

increase in the incidence of cancer of the prostate, which is in a

location that gets very little exposure to light. What these two

cancers have in common is a sensitivity to estrogen, and it is

during this same period of time that we have been exposed to

increased amounts of estrogen-like chemicals in the environment as

a result of industrial pollution: Dioxins, phenols, chlorinated

hydrocarbons, DDT, smoke, etc. It is likely that these cancers

(and others) are caused by the estrogenic pollutants.


The incidence of melanoma is consistently lower at greater

elevations, where ultraviolet light is more intense, than at lower

elevations. It is common for melanoma to develop on relatively

shaded areas, including the middle of the back and the inside of

the thigh, unlike the ordinary less malignant skin cancers, which

develop most often on the forehead, nose, ear, cheek, and lip,

where sun exposure is greatest. People who work outside have a low

incidence of melanoma according to some studies, and this is

sometimes said to be because they don't get sunburned, as pale

people do when they spend time in the sun after being indoors for

long periods. Sunburn does cause freckling, which is a clumping of

pigment cells, but recent studies show that children who get

sunburned are not at increased risk for melanoma. Sunburn causes

complex changes in the tissue, including weakened immunity.


To avoid the aging and immuno- suppressive side effects of

sunlight, it seems best for sunlight to come through a window glass

which removes most of the ultraviolet light, and some of the blue

light. Plastic film is available which contains copper that removes

this harmful part of sunlight, and can be applied to ordinary

window glass. Sitting in sunlight coming through a window of this

sort, for short times during the day, is very protective. Besides

protecting against cancer, it helps to keep the mood and energy

level high, by keeping melatonin low and stimulating metabolism.


Recently, the polyunsaturated oils have been identified as the main

thing in cells that radiation interacts with, to cause cellular

damage. Vitamin E, taken internally or even applied to the skin,

has been found to reduce the damage produced by exposure to

ultraviolet radiation, which is logical, since it interrupts the

chain reactions of toxic free-radicals produced when unsaturated

oils are oxidized by radiation or other injury. Aspirin has been

found to have a similar effect in reducing the harmful effects

which develop in the skin after sunlight overexposure. Coconut oil

has been used for generations in " suntan lotions, " and whether it

is absorbed through the skin or eaten as a food, it clearly has a

protective antioxidant function. Carotene seems to work with

vitamin E in the skin to reduce injury by ultraviolet radiation.

Caffeine also has shown a protective action against radiation, but

its mechanism of action isn't clearly understood.



Q: Why not use sun-blockers, so you can get light without getting



If a sunscreen lotion is based on the use of an opaque reflective

material, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, that substance

remains mostly on the surface of the skin. This should make it

fairly harmless, though it is possible that traces of titanium

could be absorbed with oils into the skin, where it could be made

toxic by interaction with ultraviolet rays.


However, other chemicals used in the sun screen lotions, such as

PABA derivatives, also react dangerously with light, and are easily

absorbed in significant quantities into the deeper layers of the

skin, where they can cause mutations.


For example, several recent studies have found that the

sun-blockers, which decrease the ordinary skin damage caused by

ultraviolet rays, actually increase the risk of developing

melanoma, by causing mutations when the cells' chromosomes interact

with the sunscreen and the light. (Something similar happens in the

disease, porphyria. A pigment that accumulates causes the skin to

become very sensitive to the sun. Estrogen is known to intensify

the disease.)


Even natural colored compounds, which have sometimes been used in

suntan lotions, should be avoided, since they might be able to

transmit the energy of light to the chromosomes, causing mutations.



Radiation from the sun reacts with the unsaturated fats you have

eaten to cause oxidative damage to skin cells. Vitamin E, vitamin

A and carotene are antioxidants that prevent skin cell damage, when

they are taken internally or applied to the surface of the skin.

None of these causes any harmful effects in the sun.


Aspirin reduces the iron content of the blood serum, and also

inhibits the formation of the sometimes-toxic prostaglandins from

fatty acids. Coconut oil is very resistant to radiation damage

and, like vitamin E, tends to stop the chain reactions that occur

in unsaturated fats. The old formula for suntan oil, coconut oil

with iodine, might turn out to be a safe sunscreen, since the brown

iodine absorbs light, as other " U.V. blockers " do, but iodine is

also an effective chain breaker that inactivates free radicals, and

it can't be absorbed into cells in its brown form. It doesn't have

the potential for causing cancer that the popular sunscreens do.



Q: Is sunlight still beneficial if you use a safe sun blocker?


The popular chemical sun blockers are meant to stop the ultraviolet

rays. If they can do that, without increasing the risk of

melanoma, then they are very beneficial, because this will allow

you to get a long exposure to direct sunlight, which penetrates

deeply and has an anti-stress effect. But so far, there is no

research that shows any of the chemical ultraviolet blockers is




Q: Why do people seem to get sicker in the wintertime, often right

after Christmas?


Nights are much longer in the winter, and even in the summer, death

rates are higher during the night than in daytime. December 21 is

the day with the fewest hours of sunlight, but the cumulative

damage of prolonged darkness reaches its peak about a month later.

Cold temperatures do have some harmful effects, but by keeping

people indoors, or bundled up in thick clothing, cold weather also

causes us to get very little exposure to sunlight. Winter sickness

is mainly the result of a " light deficiency. "


When young sailors spent 6 months in the continuous polar night of

Antarctica, they developed the same signs of nocturnal stress that

are common in old people during the night. Many old people

habitually get up before dawn, because they find it impossible to

stay asleep. Even healthy young people (and animals) experience

some degree of nocturnal stress as soon as the light is turned off

at night, and their body responds with an increased production of

adrenalin and cortisol.


The energy-producing part of cells, the mitochondrion, shows signs

of being increasingly damaged as the night progresses, but they are

gradually restored to their normal condition during the daytime

light hours. This means that our greatest ability to resist stress

is in the late afternoon, and we are most susceptible to injury at

dawn. In the winter, nights are long and days are short, so we

experience a cumulative increase in our susceptibility to

stress-injury during the winter months.


The light which penetrates deeply into our tissues (mainly orange

and red light) is able to improve the efficiency of energy

production' and to suppress the toxic free-radicals that are always

being formed in cells.



Q: Can you get enough sunlight during the summer to hold you

through the winter?


No, many of the beneficial effects of bright light disappear during

just a few hours of darkness, though the restoration of our tissues

that happens during the summer puts us into a better state for

surviving the winter, for example by allowing massive regeneration

of the thymus to occur. (This occurs in adults, not just in

children. The idea that the thymus disappears after puberty is

based on autopsies. If a person lives for even 3 hours after an

accident or the onset of sickness, the thymus has had time to



Frequent short exposures to bright light is almost as valuable as

continuous sunlight, and it is less likely to cause skin aging.



Q: How much sunlight do we need a day for general health?


If artificial light is bright enough, it is as effective as

sunlight at stopping the stress reaction, but people seldom use

lights that are bright enough. Generally, people and animals are

healthier when days are longer than 12 hours, that is, after March

21 and before September 20. When days are shorter than 12 hours,

artificial lights should be used from sunset until bedtime, but the

greatest brightness probably doesn't have to be continuous.

Studies on isolated organs and tissues suggest that a few seconds

of penetrating bright light are enough to break the free radical

chain reactions, slowing the production of toxic substances, which

tend to increase in concentration during nocturnal stress. A few

seconds' exposure to the direct light of ten 150 Watt incandescent

bulbs, for just a few minutes every two or three hours, might

provide more effective protection than continuous exposure to a

single 100 Watt light.





Mutations are changes in DNA molecules which can kill cells, or

accelerate their aging, or contribute to the development of cancer.



Cellular respiration: the ability of cells to consume oxygen and

produce useful biological energy.


Free radicals are parts of molecules that can be produced by

radiation (including sunlight), which contribute to cells' aging,

cancer, and mutations.


The thymus gland is an essential part of our immune system, and it

shrinks when we don't get enough light.


Melatonin, or pineal hormone: the pineal gland in the brain

responds to an absence of light (or to any stress which increases

the adrenalin systems) by secreting a hormone called melatonin,

which lightens the skin, makes the brain sluggish, turns off

thyroid and progesterone production, and suppresses immunity and



Immunosuppression refers to any process that lowers the efficiency

of our immune system, such as stress, radiation, or poisoning.





1) In fall and winter, use very bright incandescent lights daily

from sunset until bedtime.


2) Expose as much skin as possible to the bright light; even a

minute is better than nothing. Thin, light-colored clothing

transmits a considerable amount of light.


3) Infrared bulbs, with clear glass, are especially beneficial.

Special low temperature red lights are available.


4) It is better to get your sunlight through windows, because it

has less ultraviolet light than direct sunlight.


5) Don't use sun-blocking lotions, other than the simply

reflective type (zinc oxide or titanium oxide).


6) Decrease the use of unsaturated oils in the diet, and use

coconut oil as food and also on the skin during exposure to direct



7) Vitamin E and aspirin reduce the harmful effects of sunburn,

even when used after exposure to the sun, they can be applied

topically to the burned skin. Vitamin E often contains some soy

oil, so I recommend small doses of about 100 ma. per day.





Raymond Peat, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 6764

Eugene, Oregon 97405 USA

Fax 503-683-4279


Home page:










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