Anyone who is an avid gardener knows something about the effects of sunlight on all of those living things that plant their roots in the Earth and stretch their branches to the sky. They take water from the soil plus carbon dioxide from the air, and combine them to create the carbohydrates that form the plant structures, releasing oxygen. This whole reaction is powered by sunlight. Their leaves contain special ‘light-catchers’ – a compound known as chlorophyll, the substance that gives plants their green colour.
The chlorophyll molecule reminds me of the huge ‘dream catcher’ that I used to have hanging on my wall many years ago. As the Native American tradition went, the dream catcher, a sort of round net woven from willow and rope that often has beads and feathers attached in the middle, is meant to capture the energy of bad dreams as we sleep.
In the case of chlorophyll, it is magnesium (Mg) atoms in the middle of the molecular ‘net’ that interacts with packets of sunlight, called ‘photons’, capturing their energy and releasing electrons that power the photosynthetic process. You can see the structure in the diagram below. The central part of the structure that surrounds the Mg atom is known as a ‘porphyrin ring’, which absorbs light in the ultraviolet (UV) range.
Evolution found a way to harness the power of the sun to create life, storing energy as electrons within the plant structures. When we eat those plants, the stored energy in the electrons is released in our own cells, powering our body’s processes. We literally eat sunlight!
Now here’s the most fascinating part: we, too, have ‘light-catchers’ in our bodies that capture sunlight. In our case, the net is made of haemoglobin, a substance found within our red blood cells. As you can see in the figure below, it, too, contains a porphyrin ring with a metal atom in the middle; only in this instance the metal is iron (Fe). The haemoglobin porphyrin ring functions in the same way the chlorophyll ring does: the Fe atoms interact with packets of sunlight, capturing their energy and releasing electrons that power physiologic processes in our bodies. Red blood cells in the blood vessels nearest the skin surface capture UV light that penetrates the skin. The warming rays of the sun dilate the blood vessels, causing more blood to come to the surface and allowing more UV light to be absorbed.
We are powered by sunlight, just as much as the plants in our gardens. Nature wouldn’t have created this ability to utilise sunlight if sunlight was the dreaded dangerous deadly thing that it is being cast as these days. Think about it. We didn’t evolve with layers of clothing and SPF30 creams covering our solar panels.
Light powers life in all living things. So get your skin’s solar panels out there in the sun – morning and late afternoon especially – and start collecting that energy. In a future blog, you’ll hear how that energy powers the healing currents in our bodies!