The recent cloudy and chilly weather has many Wellesley students craving the warm summer sun to help propel them through finals. Students repeatedly check the weather, looking forward to the next day when temperatures will finally rise above 70 degrees fahrenheit, and the sun will peek out from behind the clouds. Sunshine prompts lying on Sev green or by the lake while trying to cram the last few days of studying in before finals, as well as study breaks like tossing a frisbee.
While most articles around the transition from spring to summer focus on the dangers of too much ultraviolet exposure and the risks it has for your skin, laying in the sun can actually be extremely beneficial to both mental and physical health by altering the body’s serotonin and vitamin D levels.
Sunlight increases the brain’s release of serotonin, a hormone that is associated with mood-boosting and helping a person feel calm and alert. According to the National Center for Biological Information (NCBI), human skin appears to have an inherent serotonergic system, meaning it is capable of producing serotonin. While many studies done on this topic are preliminary, many findings suggest that seasonal alterations (more or less sunlight) in serotonin may partially be the result of the serotonin infrastructure in the skin. This means that the skin is possibly able to produce and bio-regulate the amount of serotonin in the body.
Without enough sun exposure, your body is unable to produce as much serotonin and can lead to depressive symptoms. This is most common in the winter and is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), in which a person experiences symptoms of depression due to a lack of sunlight-induced serotonin. However, full remission is experienced in patients during the spring and summer months due to the increase in sunlight exposure because the body is able to compensate by increasing serotonin levels.
UV rays are also absorbed by many molecules called chromophores in different layers of skin that have mood-boosting effects. They stimulate epidermal cells known as keratinocytes to make beta-endorphins, whose primary function is to reduce stress.
Vitamin D is also synthesized when skin is exposed to sunlight. Exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays is the most natural way that the body produces vitamin D3, and can usually be achieved when bare skin is exposed to sun for 5-10 minutes two to three times per week. However, vitamin D production can vary in amounts depending on skin tone and sunblock application, which both prevent the UV rays from reaching and being absorbed into the skin. When there is an adequate amount of vitamin D in the body, it can help maintain the health of bones and teeth, support the health of the immune system, brain and nervous system, regulate insulin level and support lung function and cardiovascular health according to Megan Ware, a registered dietician nutritionist.
Overall, exposure to sunlight can have many positive effects on our bodies and minds, especially in terms of regulating stress and happiness. Therefore, try to get out and enjoy the sunshine when it breaks through the clouds in the coming days!