What is Heliotherapy?

Melanie Smeltzer

Heliotherapy, also sometimes referred to as light therapy, is a term used to describe the therapeutic use of sunlight or other light wavelengths. This form of therapy has long been used to treat conditions including psoriasis, tuberculosis, mood disorders, and sleeping problems. Although many people are skeptical about whether or not this treatment is effective, some studies have shown that, in some cases, the benefits can last more than a year.

Heliotherapy may benefit people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Heliotherapy may benefit people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

For ages, people have worshiped the sun for its numerous uses, so it is no surprise that heliotherapy has become a popular treatment. This therapy works in several ways, but is best known as a conveyor of vitamin D. When the ultraviolet rays of the sun make contact with the skin, they help the body produce this vitamin, which, in turn, is said to help in the formation of bones, treating rickets, and lowering blood pressure. It is also said to enhance the immune system, which can help the body fight off numerous bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.

By spending 30 minutes in the sun, a person's body can make the equivalent of 10,000 international units of vitamin D.
By spending 30 minutes in the sun, a person's body can make the equivalent of 10,000 international units of vitamin D.

Heliotherapy has a long history of usage. Hippocrates, widely thought to be the father of Western medicine, encouraged the use of sunlight to treat a number of diseases. Though this treatment was often used by the ancient Greeks, it eventually fell out of favor, and did not return to popularity until the late 1800s, when it was used as a cure for tuberculosis. Over time, physicians began to develop artificial means of heliotherapy in the form of lamps. These lamps were not meant as a replacement for sunlight, but an as an alternative that could be used during the colder seasons.

Heliotherapy is said to lower blood pressure and enhance the immune system.
Heliotherapy is said to lower blood pressure and enhance the immune system.

Despite the fact that heliotherapy is thought to be generally harmless, it can have some potential side effects. The most common side effects are skin reactions. Many of these reactions, such as erythema, are harmless and will go away shortly after treatment. Other skin reactions may result in burnt or damaged skin, as well as premature aging. Some fear that this therapy may also cause skin cancer, but this has not been definitively proved.

Heliotherapy can cause headaches.
Heliotherapy can cause headaches.

Other heliotherapy side effects can include blurred or double vision, which may be the result of cataract development. This treatment may also cause mild to moderate headaches, fatigue, and diarrhea that may be accompanied by bloating or abdominal pain. These reactions are generally temporary, and may subside within hours of treatment.

Heliotherapy is sometimes used to treat sleeping problems.
Heliotherapy is sometimes used to treat sleeping problems.

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