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What is the History of Heliotherapy?


In ancient cultures they practiced many forms of heliotherapy.  Some of these peoples included peoples of the ancient Greeks, Ancient Egyptians, and Ancient Romans.  Hippocrates was a great advocate of the sunlight for its healing properties.


Some saw so much benefit in sunlight healing that they began to worship the sun as the god who brought health.  So it was with the Inca, Assyrians and proto Germanic peoples.  


Why would such a diverse groups of people come to the same conclusion, sunlight heals?  The first rule of science is having a continued observation.  Sometimes things are happening in the light of day, but we do not take note of them, because we are not observing that which is there for continued observation.  

sun observation

On the subcontinent Indian medical literature from around 1500 BC prescribes using herbs with natural sunlight for certain skin issues.  Buddhist writings from around 200 CE and 10th-century Chinese writers make similar references.


The Faeroese physician Niels Finsen,


a recipient of the Nobel Prize for his work, is called by many the father of modern phototherapy. He was the first known to develop an artificial light source for healing skin issues.  

Recent studies showed that his lens and filter system concluded that light of approximately 400 nanometers generated reactive oxygen that would kill the bacteria.  Finsen also used red light to treat smallpox lesions. He was presented the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1903.  


Before the advent of modern wonder drugs, it was standard protocol to give sunlight treatment to tuberculosis patients in sanitariums.  


As the need for more tuberculosis sanitariums grew, they began to construct in the hospital a special room called a solarium.  It was specifically for the patients to get sun treatments when they could not be taken outside in the winter.  Everyday you would get a sun treatment.  


There is the strange case of J.B. Stetson, creator of the famous hats.  While he and his family worked indoors making hats, he contracted tuberculosis, and the doctors of the day gave him less than a year to live.  He made his bucket list.  He wanted to see the Rocky Mountains,


which he had heard of from the mountain men who brought furs to sell, before he died.  


This was the time before European culture had occupied that land.  It was the days of the mountain men.  Being in the hat making industry, he came in contact with a mountain man, who had come back east to sell his furs.  He told him of his last wish.  


The trapper was reluctant to take him.  But Mr. Stetson said he would take care of the camp while the man hunted and when he died just bury him wherever.  He promised that he would not be a burden.  So it was agreed.


What was happening, he was getting out of the hat industry inclosure and getting out into the sunlight.  It was on that trip that he designed the first stetson hats from the pelts that were brought in.  He did not die and recovered from his tuberculosis.  


Is that proof.  No.  But it fits well as an explanation of his cure in light of Dr. Finsen’s work.


After Stetson’s cure, many tubercular patients went west for the cure.  Many found it.  They thought it was the fresh air.  Arizona was a place many went for fresh air healing.  That’s right, they went to SUNNY Arizona.  


It was a well talked about cure to go west, and most often it was Arizona.  


That is why Doc Holliday went west.  

doc holliday

But he did not get the cure.  Well right off the bat, we have to say that no cure is 100%.  However he had some other issues against healing to contend with also.  


Holliday was a notorious alcoholic which further compromised his weakened immune system.  He was burning the candle at both ends.  His business was gambling.  He slept mostly in the day and was up at night, making himself not regularly in the sunlight.  As far as the cure, he might as well have been in the inclosed hat industry.  He had not gone west; he, it appears, basically stayed indoors.  


We will talk later about other condition for which heliotherapy may be good.  But this is a little history to indicate that sunlight, used judiciously, is not harmful but healthful.  



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