By: Marc Sorenson, Sunlight Institute–
It has been known for decades that those who live closer to the equator have a lower risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). In various pieces of research, Vitamin D produced by sunlight, has been suggested as the factor responsible for the decreasing risk of MS based on proximity to the equator. However, a recent study shows that sunlight, while obviously being critical in the production of vitamin D, has its own profound influence in lessening the degeneration of nerves (neurodegeneration) in those with MS.
By measuring whole brain volume (WBV) and grey-matter volume (GMV) by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the scientists determined that greater summer sunlight exposure predicted greater WBV and GMV in MS patients. Interestingly though, when vitamin D levels were measured, they had no influence on the positive effects of sunlight exposure with WBV or GMV. The researchers concluded: “Sun exposure may have direct effects on MRI measures of neurodegeneration in MS, independently of vitamin D.”
This research opens the door to a whole new area of research on vitamin D. The idea that brain volume is correlated to sunlight exposure independently of vitamin D blood levels causes one to wonder how many other research papers, touting the benefits of vitamin D, might be reassessed to determine if sunlight exposure had its own benefits beyond its ability to cause the production of vitamin D in skin.
The idea that WBV and GMV are greater in those exposed to sunlight also brings up the possibility that IQ could be influenced positively by sunlight exposure. It has also been shown that autism is more prevalent in areas of less sunlight exposure and more common to occur in children with wintertime births. Could the pregnant mother’s sunlight exposure have an influence on fetal-brain development beyond the level of vitamin D produced in her body? Could that influence improve IQ? Could factors such as nitric-oxide production by the UVA portion of sunlight play a role? And, beyond brain and nerve protection and development, could there be independent protective influences of sunlight on the myriad diseases correlated to vitamin D deficiency—diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and cancer?
As Dr. Bernard Ackerman once stated, “the sun, now incriminated as the major culprit responsible for an “epidemic” of melanoma, will be rehabilitated from its status current of pariah, our worst enemy, to its place rightful, all things considered, namely, humankind’s best friend.”
The fact—that research is proving sunlight has beneficial effects beyond vitamin D production—shows that the rehabilitation has begun.
 Acheson ED. Some comments on the relationship of the distribution of multiple sclerosis to latitude, solar radiation, and other variables. Acta Neurol Scand 1960;35:132-47.
 Zivadinov R, Treu CN, Weinstock-Guttman B, Turner C, Bergsland N, O’Connor K, Dwyer MG, Carl E, Ramasamy DP, Qu J, Ramanathan M. Interdependence and contributions of sun exposure and vitamin D to MRI measures in multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013 Feb 5. [Epub ahead of print]<?xml:namespace prefix = o />
 A Bernard Ackerman, dermatologist. The Sun and the “Epidemic” of Melanoma: Myth on Myth! 2008.