July is here, and with it comes the scorching heat of the summer sun. While we seek refuge from the intense heat, it’s worth remembering that sunshine can be a powerful promoter of health and well-being.

For starters, sunlight is the primary source of energy for Earth, providing for the growth of green plants needed for our enjoyment and our food. Sunlight enables plants to create oxygen from carbon dioxide and promotes positive thinking by increasing serotonin, an important “happiness” brain chemical.

Low serotonin levels have been linked to various conditions including ADHD, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, fatigue and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Serotonin also influences eating behavior and body weight.

Sunlight impacts another crucial brain chemical called melatonin, which helps us sleep well. Adequate daytime sunlight exposure leads to higher melatonin levels at night, improving both sleep and mood.

Sunlight has germicidal properties. Simply opening blinds can improve your health, and giving your bedding a sunbath can eliminate germs.

As the best source of vitamin D, sunlight facilitates strong bone development by efficiently converting a cholesterol metabolite into this “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is crucial for immune system function and has shown promise in protecting against autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and type one diabetes. Research also indicates an inverse relationship between sunlight exposure and blood pressure, and suggests vitamin D may protect against some cancers.

Despite its benefits, sunlight has gained a bad reputation. While excessive exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer and cataracts, moderate amounts are highly beneficial. Sun in high doses does raise skin cancer risk, particularly basal and squamous cell carcinomas, which are typically treatable. However, it’s always best to avoid sunburn.

Interestingly, moderate sunlight exposure may help prevent other forms of cancer, including melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) through increased vitamin D production. One study examining overall cancer rates across several states concluded that while frequent sun exposure statistically causes 2,000 U.S. cancer fatalities annually, it also prevents 138,000 U.S. cancer deaths each year and could potentially prevent 30,000 more if Americans practiced regular, moderate sun exposure.

For optimal health, it’s crucial to get adequate sunshine without getting sunburned.