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HomeHealthSunlight can’t cure Covid-19, but don't dismiss its healing powers

Sunlight can’t cure Covid-19, but don’t dismiss its healing powers

Sunlight has long been seen as a cure for disease, leading to a boom in ‘heliotherapy’ 100 years ago.

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The suggestion from the US president, Donald Trump, that COVID-19 could be treated with light was rightly criticised by scientists and clinicians, but sunlight has long been seen as a cure for disease, leading to a boom in “heliotherapy” 100 years ago.

In the 19th century, when industrialisation and urbanisation had drastically reduced the amount of time people spent in the sun, concerns about the effects of lack of sunlight became widespread. In 1903, Niels Ryberg Finsen (1860–1904) earned a Nobel Prize in medicine for his pioneering work in the field of phototherapy. Light therapies that involved exposure to both natural and artificial lamps became popular, and there was a proliferation of theories about the best way to administer light.

The Swiss doctor Auguste Rollier (1874-1954) was the most prominent sun advocate at the time. In numerous publications and at international congresses, he argued that the sun could heal a wide variety of lesions — syphilitic ulcers, all kinds of burns and fractures — as well as rickets and tuberculosis, the “white death”. Sun exposure could also have a positive effect on one’s mood and overall outlook.At the same time, nudism and naturalism were gaining in popularity, and the sight of tanned skin began to be associated with health and beauty. Medical theories praised the benefits of sun exposure through the practice of taking “sunbaths”.

But strict discipline and expert supervision were indispensable for the treatment to be effective. Rollier conceded that one could sunbathe anywhere and obtain some benefit. But he felt picking the proper climate was essential. If too hot, the sun “depresses and congests” – if too cold, it could be dangerous.

He also argued that the proper technique should be followed, and for this reason he was critical of those who attempted sunbathing without medical supervision. He decried their “snobbism” – as he saw it, they deemed it unnecessary to seek expert advice. He scorned their goal of merely “acquiring in record time a tan darker than their neighbour’s”, and emphatically listed the possible medical consequences, from erythema (redding of the skin) and sunburns, vertigo and palpitations, to lung and brain congestion.

The proper technique eliminated all barriers between the sun’s radiation and the body, and managed exposure in carefully timed increments. He used a specific chart that indicated the exact number of minutes each body part required, starting by revealing only the feet and extending the amount of the body and the length of time exposed to light with each day. All reactions, including headaches or lack of appetite, had to be carefully monitored so as to be able to adjust the therapy. Hats and sunglasses were recommended, as was moderate exercise.

By 1930, Rollier ran 37 heliotherapic clinics housing a total of 1,100 patients of all social classes. The Swiss town of Leysin where he was based became home to 80 treatment centres, hosting 3,000 patients, 50 doctors, and 300 nurses.

Also read: Can India risk a controlled epidemic after lockdown ends? It will depend on these factors


A lasting effect

Before antibiotic treatments became available, time in a solar sanatorium was effective for treating tuberculosis, and the associated conditions which could develop in long-term and untreated cases. Scientists later discovered that UV rays could destroy the bacteria that caused the disease. It was also effective at curing rickets by helping the patients’ bodies develop vitamin D through sun exposure.

But heliotherapy also contributed to a much deeper holistic healing process. Rollier treated the “whole patient” (malade tout entier), paying attention to both physical and emotional health. Each person arrived with “a heart heavy with pains, preoccupations and inquietudes”. The sunlight, warmth and calm of the sanatorium may have encouraged the body to create endorphins and boosted the patient’s sense of wellbeing and positivity.

Many of his patients came from poor backgrounds and lived in very unhealthy conditions. In Leysin, some people would work in an agricultural colony or on machinery especially installed by their bed (notably at the Clinique Manufacture Internationale), where they could benefit from sun exposure while reducing the cost of their treatment. Rollier believed the “joy” of being in the open air, together with the pride and satisfaction of supporting oneself, would do much for the overall improvement of the patients’ morale, spirit and, ultimately, physical health.

Rollier’s all-encompassing approach sought to treat not just the physical but the psychospiritual aspects of the patient, without which he felt his treatments would not progress. Despite the absence of formal transcendent elements, his approach had a quasi-religious quality that sought to give life meaning, purpose and a vision to guide both present and future – an approach he felt would benefit not just individuals but the world as a whole. Rollier thought of his clinics as a forum where patients from various countries could meet and interact in a friendly environment. He saw them as a workshop to build international cooperation and peace.

Newly developed antibiotics as well as cancers and other pathologies caused by overexposure to the sun’s rays have since robbed the sun of its status as a entirely beneficial source of health (although phototherapy is still used for certain conditions such as psoriasis). But Rollier’s humane and holistic approach still resonates in our time, as he sought to address issues ranging from mental health to conflict to social inequality – which remain far from being solved a century on.The Conversation

Ilaria Scaglia, Lecturer in History, Aston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Also read: Coronavirus dies fastest under light, warm and humid conditions, US study finds


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  1. A beautiful article and sunlight is indeed the great healer. So I agree with the President. Sun exposure produces vitamin D and several other essential photoproducts that enhance human health. Here are a few more facts about sunlight in addition to what you have already stated:
    •Influenza diminishes almost to nothing during late spring, summer, and early fall, times of greatest sun exposure and vitamin D production.
    •Seventy-five percent of melanomas occurs on areas of the body seldom or never exposed to sun.
    •Women who sunbathe regularly have half the risk of death during a 20-year period compared to those who stay indoors.
    •Multiple sclerosis (MS) is highest in areas of little sunlight, and virtually disappears in areas of year-round direct sunlight.
    •A Spanish study shows that women who seek the sun have one-eleventh the hip-fracture risk as sun avoiders.
    •Men who work outdoors have half the risk of melanoma as those who work indoors.
    •Women who avoid the sun have 10-times the risk of breast cancer as those who embrace the sun.
    •Sun exposure decreases heart disease risk.
    •Sun exposure dramatically improves mood.
    •Those persons who spend many hours daily outdoors have only 1/50 the risk of Parkinson’s disease!
    •For each death caused by diseases associated with sun exposure, there are 328 deaths caused by diseases associated with sun deprivation.
    •Sun exposure increases the production of BDNF, essential to nerve function.
    •Sun exposure can produce as much as 20,000 IU of vitamin D in 20 minutes of full-body sun exposure.
    •In the U.S., vitamin D deficiency in children has increased by 83 times during a 14-year period. That is likely due to indoor living and sunscreen use. More information:, and read Dr. Marc Sorenson’s book, Embrace the Sun.

  2. Dear Print.
    You have entirely missed the importance of Sun in Yoga. Surya Namaskar was practiced in India from time immemorial. Now the same is practiced by Westerners and you are talking about it. It’s the people like you who were after the west who ignored the science behind Ayurveda, Yoga, and Kundalini Yoga etc that emphasizes on developing and realising the healing power of the body to cure any critical illness through activation of chakra’s or energy centres that are spread across the body. Just do a research on different videos prepared by Westerners about different meditation techniques, practitioners of Yoga’s etc following the Indian system in an unprecedented scale. Yet it’s the Indians who are unaware of our own history and knowledge that are already revealed by the Western world without giving any attribution to the Indian Rishi’s and Munis and to our system. Even in India, the Surya Namaskar is practiced by Christian Missionaries in Kerala as Yeshu (Jesus) Namaskar. Indians should be at least aware of their roots. Indians used to brush teeth with Charcoal, salt and neem. British empire brought their toothpaste made of calcium carbonate, fluoride etc and made fun of our tradition. Now they are selling toothbrush and toothpaste with Charcoal, active salt and neem in the West and introducing it to us as their own innovation. Firstly ask them to stop adding Flouride in toothpaste. It destroys the 3rd eye chakra and activation of Pineal gland. Now the Westerners have their 3rd eye chakra activated by following our Yoga, Meditation and chakra Healing techniques and they are teaching us. They add all sort of names like Mary, Jesus and Holy Spirit instead of Jeevathma and Paramathma, and Sookshma Shareeram. In this way Indians are getting misguided. They don’t know their roots and tradition. Most of the Indian kids don’t practice Yoga. But Westerners will practice it.

    Please do an article on Pranic healing, Chakra healing, Awakening, Higher frequency, enlightenment, bliss, higher consciousness. Shift of earth to the 4th dimension. These are the things that are current. This is what is happening now. The entire Corona Virus thing is happening because of the shift of earth. Just watch all the prediction by Abhigya (channel: conscience) in the YouTube Video: “Severe danger to the world” Published in August 2019: talking about all the things happening now using Vedic astrology.

    He predicted World wide diseases, death, economic disasters, poverty, named each and every country affected, reason for it, cause and preventions also discussed. In the next videos he has predicted about China is doing a great mistake. The date predicted by him in August 2019 about the date of beginning of disasy and Corona virus issue and date of first death reported in China are the same.

    Our Vedic Science is much advanced than modern Science. It doesn’t mention about drinking cow urine and cow dung. All those are spread by those who are unaware of the Vedic Science, Ayurveda, Yoga, Prana, Kundalini yoga, and meditation, Vedic Astrology etc. Westerners changed our history and destroyed our books, misinterpreted it without having any basic information and got everything screwed up. Indians being ashamed of their own history and tradition started following the West. Now the Westerners have raised their consciousness and started practicing our systems and we are again learning it from the them. The problem is that they are no where near it. We should learn from our own tradition and Science. Because westerners have lost the most part of it and in India we have a saying “Part knowledge kills people”. Westerners have something with them that they learned from India and Indian Gurus but the knowledge and the essence of all science is in our Vedas. You can dive deeper in to it only with the knowledge of Sanskrit, and Vedas. English Vedas are just English without core.

    For eg: The sentence: “Ravan has 10 heads” has only one meaning in English. The person had 10 number of heads and English will interpret it as the Hindu texts mentioned someone with 10 heads. It’s mythology.

    But in Sanskrit, it means he is 10 times intelligent than normal human. In other sense, he has 10 type of characters (gunas), means he is polite, at the same time he is cruel, at the same time he is a great ruler and so on. The word fire has only one meaning but it can be interpreted as hot, soul, spirit, the energy, the spark etc. English people have actually failed to interpret the depth of Vedas. Many tried sincerely but they don’t have the roots in India to understand it. So we can’t blame them.
    So please make an article about the science in Vedas, about Vedic astrology, Yoga, Kundalini energy, awakening, meditation. These are all real things. The present generation is born in the 4th dimension and they are aware of all of it. The entire shift of the world is towards the 4th dimension.
    You should also research on symptoms of Awakening. You will find that “Fear of death is the first symptom”, dark night of the soul is another. All these are real. Please spread the message. Don’t hide it from Indians.

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