5 Ways Sunlight Impacts Your Metabolic Health
Did you know that sunlight has a direct impact on your metabolic health?
All the cells of your body take some direction from the sun on how they should function.
Here are the 5 ways sunlight impacts your metabolic health:
1. Plants make food for your cells using sunlight.
Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants create their food with the help of carbon dioxide, water, and sunshine.
Light energy from the sun is transformed by plants into simple sugars that form into complex carbohydrates that we consume. Once inside our body, they are broken down to be used by our cells to form energy in the form of ATP or adenosine triphosphate.
During photosynthesis, oxygen is produced as a byproduct.
Sunlight is essential to every living thing’s survival on earth, including you!
2. Sunlight entering the eyes generates genetic and hormonal signals.
Your eyes, particularly in the retina, have these special cells that respond to light, called photoreceptors. When they absorb light, they undergo a tiny chemical change that triggers a series of events that create an electrical impulse that is fired by an axon of a nerve cell to another until it reaches your suprachiasmatic nucleus or the SCN as well as other parts of your brain.
So exposure to sunlight stimulates your SCN to start brain and cellular processes that are affected by genetics, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Now, when you have an erratic sleeping pattern or don’t get enough sunlight, you are not exposed to the normal cycles of the sun. When that happens, the complex physiologic processes that are initiated by the SCN are distorted.
This is when disease can set in.
3. Sunlight helps regulate stress-response systems.
Your SCN is your body’s master clock or pacemaker. It is in charge of your body’s circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. This affects your metabolic health because it plays a role in food intake, insulin sensitivity, glucose control, and energy expenditure. When your blood sugar is out of balance, it affects everything, but I want to specifically point out how hard this is on your adrenal glands! Your adrenal glands produce many hormones, cortisol being the most known one. One of cortisol’s roles is helping blood sugar regulation…and if it’s got to work hard balancing your blood sugar, your stress-response system is definitely going to be strained and you aren’t going to feel as resilient as you could!
So when your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it takes a toll on your metabolic health. It may lead to pancreatic dysfunction and problems with glucose and insulin metabolism, which may lead to a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Even in the absence of disease, your body’s ability to convert energy into food will be limited and, as I mentioned with your resilience, you won’t have the capacity to regulate your stress response.
It is vital to get sunlight first thing in the morning and get off screens and artificial light before bedtime so that your SCN gets the right signals to function optimally.
4. Sunlight impacts mood, which is also correlated with metabolism.
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that affect mood, and its levels decrease when you don’t get enough sunlight. No wonder some people experience mood changes or depression during the winter months if they’re living somewhere where sunlight is limited.
Aside from mood regulation, serotonin also affects metabolism. In fact, increased serotonin levels regulate appetite and glucose control.
5. Sunlight is a source of vitamin D.
Although vitamin D can be found in food, the major source of vitamin D is the sun. It is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D also affects mood and metabolism. Obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes are among the disease conditions that are correlated to low levels of vitamin D.
By now, I think you get the point: sunlight is important! It affects you on a cellular level and impacts the physiologic processes that affect both your mood and metabolic health. Assess yourself if you are getting enough sunlight (around 20-30 mins/day) and if not, how can you begin to adapt your lifestyle in order to benefit from it.
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