Using Sunlight to Ramp Up Immune Response

Sunlight Offers Surprise Benefit, It Energizes Infection Fighting T Cells reads the headlines. Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that sunlight, through a mechanism separate than vitamin D production, energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity.

Professor Gerard Ahern, who lead the study at Georgetown said, “We all know sunlight provides vitamin D, which is suggested to have an impact on immunity, among other things. “But what we found is a completely separate role of sunlight on immunity. Some of the roles attributed to vitamin D on immunity may be due to this new mechanism.”

They specifically found that low levels of blue light, found in sun rays, makes disease fighting T cells in the skin move faster- marking the first reported human cell responding to sunlight by speeding its pace. Prof Ahern said: “T cells need to move to do their work, which is to get to the site of an infection and orchestrate a response. “This study shows that sunlight directly activates key immune cells by increasing their movement.”

Dr. Minsoo Kim is also experimenting with using light to stimulate T cells. At the University of Rochester Medical Center he is experimenting with ways to use light and optics to steer killer immune cells toward tumors.

“Strong association studies have found that Vitamin D is also very important in signaling the immune system. It appears to be necessary in adequate amounts to turn on your ability to survey the rest of your cells,” says Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio. Since regular sun exposure is one of the most robust ways to up active Vitamin-D levels in your body, it can help beef up your immune system as well. “Inadequate levels of this vitamin have been associated with an increased rate of infection, cancer, and mortality rate after surgery,” he adds.