The Healing Power Of The Sun

In real estate, there is an often repeated adage: “location, location, location.” The same might be true for IBD.

As Crohn's and ulcerative colitis patients, all day long we hear about dietary irritants, stress levels, smoking cigarettes and the like as elements that exacerbate our condition, etc. These are worth considering. But what is rarely focused upon—what is barely, if at all emphasized as a cause of Crohn’s disease— is our location.

Incidence and rates of Crohn's disease in certain areas

This is odd, since the incidence of Crohn’s is drastically lower in warmer, more rural areas. Canada, for example, has the highest rate of Crohn’s disease in the world, while there are parts of Central and South America where it is virtually non-existent. The reasons for this are still not adequately understood. Some attribute it to lower sunshine levels in Northern areas (and hence lower Vitamin D levels in patients), others to differences in air pollution; still others to the cleanliness and sterility of industrialized zones, which could make patients more prone to auto-immune reactions.

All that is known, with certainty, is that way more people get Crohn’s disease in northern, heavily-industrialized zones. This is a key fact in itself though. For a disease that is notoriously hard to pin-down, this basic idea, that location has an impact on the course of your condition, should probably be highlighted more. For, those who fell ill in a northern, industrialized zone, could, perhaps, profit from visiting and/or moving to a more rural, southern area (and, in particular, obtaining more sun).

Crohn's feels better in warmer climates

I’d considered this for a while—and—in general—did feel better—over the years when on vacation—particularly a beach vacation. My brother, who has Crohn’s, has had similar experiences. Still, I didn’t think too deeply about all this until around seven years ago when I went on vacation to Costa Rica. I felt so much better than in my home, New York City, during what had previously been a flare, that I started wondering if Costa Rica was making me better. I had more energy; ate more; my symptoms dissipated.

The climate seemed perfect. It was humid, but in a way that was really comfortable. All around me were lush rain forests and plentiful trees pouring oxygen into the air. There was little pollution and industrialization, for Costa Rica is a third world country, where, in many places, they still have dirt roads. Then too, the crops are not grown with GMO’s, nor do farmers use our level of pesticides. Even the chicken and beef were incredibly fresh and tasty, perhaps because they weren’t raised in dismal conditions on enormous factory farms. Most of all, there was lots of direct sunlight, which creates Vitamin D in the body, and has been shown to be critical to reducing IBD symptoms.

A healing place for wellness and recovery

Over the next few years, when I felt sick, I’d returned to Costa Rica a bunch of times, and, in every case, just about, saw a big improvement. I looked it up and noticed that Costa Rica has very low rates of Crohn’s/colitis. It is also one of the countries that have a Blue Zone, or an area with most people in the world living to 100 and beyond. This was all interesting to me. It seemed a healing place, a place for recovery and wellness. My body just seemed more in tune with all around me and I had a vitality and youthfulness I lacked elsewhere.

I went on to learn that your microbiome, or gut bacteria, can completely change within 24 hours of visiting a new place. This, too, lent credence to the idea that it wasn’t all just placebo. If you’re gut microbes totally were altered by a visit to a new place than it made sense to expect a totally different experience.

Find a place or a solution that works for you

Now, I’m not sure that Costa Rica, in particular, is really any better than any other tropical place for other sufferers of Crohn’s and colitis. In fact, some might get more ill in a third world country such as Costa Rica where contamination of the water supply may be more likely, and, at times, there are less stringent food safety standards. All I’m saying is seeking out a healing place, a place for rejuvenation, that works for you, could make a big difference.

Location, Location, Location. It sounds silly. But if you’ve already exhausted all your options, consider visiting a warmer, more rural climate. Finally, if you can’t afford to travel in such a fashion, and live in a Northern climate, you might want to buy a UVB sun lamp, for getting Vitamin D from light sources seems, in many cases, to have benefits in and of itself (in addition to the Vitamin D it produces).

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your uncommon healing strategies—if you have them—in the comments. I wish you all the best!

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