The protective blessings of sunlight

Often today we fail to recognize the great benefit of sunlight in purifying our environment and making it safe and healthy.

Fred Hardinge, DrPH, RD, is an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries department, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Many people today long for the simpler life of what they believe to be the “good old days.” Even then, not all was to be envied. Listen to the following description of city life: “A basic problem was the polluted air that permeated almost all sections of the city. Brownstone residents were advised to keep their windows permanently shut against outside air, which was ‘redolent with a mixture of soot, factory vapors, and animal stenches.’ Indoors, because of the lack of ventilation, the air was comparable in quality, if not worse. Sewer gas from primitive drainage systems posed a constant peril to health; dampness and odors plagued the homes of rich and poor alike.”1

The contrast of rural living was not much better: “Country life in the post–Civil War era was an unremitting hardship. The farmer and his family toiled fourteen hours a day merely to sustain themselves. . . . Nor did their endless drudgery reward the farmers with prosperity; during the economic distress of 1870–1900 few small and middle-sized farms produced anything beyond bare subsistence, and many foreclosed. In place of a neat rose garden, an expanse of muck and manure surrounded the farmhouse, sucking at boots and exuding a pestilential stench that attracted swarms of flies, ticks, and worms to amplify the miseries of man and beast. The elemental task of survival precluded any concern for hygiene or sanitary installations.”2

These are grim descriptions of life during those times. In most homes rooms were dark, dank, and dusty. Thus, it was a revolutionary idea in 1865 when an early health reformer, Ellen G. White, first encouraged church members to allow light and fresh air into the rooms of their homes! “Rooms that are not exposed to light and air become damp. Beds and bedding gather dampness, and the atmosphere in these rooms is poisonous, because it has not been purified by light and air. . . .

“Sleeping rooms especially should be well ventilated, and the atmosphere made healthy by light and air.”3 Only four years earlier, in 1861, germs had been discovered by Louis Pasteur. At that point in time little was known about the cleansing power of sunlight.

It was not until 1944 that a British researcher, Dr. L. P. Garrod, reported on studies he had conducted on hospital dust. He found low-intensity daylight (ultraviolet radiation) and fluorescent lighting at room temperature enhanced the death rate of all the organisms studied.4 He found that in wards housing patients with hemolytic streptococcal infections, the organisms were numerous in the dust near the beds. At room temperature in the dark, some survived 195 days in dust. Yet, dust close to the windows or on window sills, never contained them. Ordinary daylight was germicidal even through glass in winter in London!

In the same year, 1944, a study done at the University of Chicago found that even diffuse daylight is definitely germicidal to meningococci, the germs which cause meningitis—even though the test was done in winter and early spring when daylight is less intense than in the warmer months.5

A few short years later, these early observations were confirmed when one half of a Petri dish, cultured with bacteria, was covered to protect it from sunlight and the other half was exposed to the sun. In the half exposed to sunlight no bacteria were found. However, the protected half swarmed with bacteria.6

Many years later the Medical Journal of Australia commented on the findings of a research thesis: “It is astonishing that the abundant occurrence of the house-dust mite in the domestic environment should have escaped notice so long. The reasons are that it is small, not easy to demonstrate and dispersed throughout the house. . . . House dust asthma, like the house-dust mite, is commoner in damp than in dry houses, and reaches its peak prevalence in autumn.”7

Long before these scientific findings, Ellen White specifically stated that germs are present and survive in dark, dank, dusty areas. This counsel was taken seriously and implemented in the early Seventh-day Adventist medical institutions which had large windows to allow sunlight and fresh air into the rooms. “Every form of uncleanliness tends to disease. Death producing germs abound in dark, neglected corners, in decaying refuse, in dampness and mold and must.”8

Often today we fail to recognize the great benefit of sunlight in purifying our environment and making it safe and healthy. Whenever possible pull back your curtains and open wide your windows to allow the sanitizing rays of the sun to flood your home and environment. Thank God every day for the blessings of sunlight!

1 Otto L. Bettmann, The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible! (New York: Random House, 1974), 34.

2 Ibid., 47.

3 Ellen White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1957), 57.

4 Lawrence P. Garrod, “Some Observations on Hospital Dust: With Special Reference to Light as a Hygienic Safeguard,” British Medical Journal 1 (February 19, 1944): 245, doi: 10.1136.

5 C. Phillip Miller and Doretta J. Schad, “The Resistance of Meningococci to Drying,” Journal of Bacteriology 47 (January 1944): 79.

6 O. M. Lidwell and E. J. Lowbury, “The Survival of Bacteria in Dust,” Journal of Hygiene 48, no. 1 (March 1950): 28–43.

Medical Journal of Australia, June 8, 1968, 1010.

8 Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 276.

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Fred Hardinge, DrPH, RD, is an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries department, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

July 2017

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