Many health experts agree avoiding the sun may be a serious risk for disease.
Is avoiding the sun as big a health risk as smoking cigarettes?
Many health experts believe so, and the latest science is backing them up.
Dr. Pelle Lindqvist and colleagues at Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital, in their recent study from the Journal of Internal Medicine, recently equated sun avoidance with smoking, and went a step further, stating that: “An inborn internal reward system for sun exposure indicates that UV exposure is important for health.”
The same authors previously showed that the mortality rate was doubled in women who avoided active sun exposure, compared to those with the highest sun exposure, and found no differences in malignant melanoma mortality between those with regular sun exposure and those who avoid it.
Much of this information is not new. A number of studies have shown that those with the highest sun exposure had the longest life expectancy.
Another recent study in the British Medical Journal demonstrated that avoiding the sun or having low levels of vitamin D is associated with the same risk of death as smoking, inactivity or obesity.
The caveat: Don’t get burned
To accomplish this one must know their exposure limits. The obvious is that if you’re in northern Australia your time is the sun should be less than if you’re in Sweden; likewise, if your skin is darker or lighter you must adjust to more or less exposure. (If you do get burned, get in a tub of cold water for as long as it takes the burning sensation to stop.)
Do get healthy. Other factors such as chronic inflammation, higher body fat and excess stress contribute significantly to all diseases, including skin cancers.
Overexposure to sun is clearly a risk for malignant melanoma, but it is worsened when using sunscreen and remaining in the sun longer (many people have mistakenly been led to believe they could stay in the sun longer by using regular applications of sunscreen).
Sun versus D
Sun exposure and vitamin D are both important and separate. Vitamin D levels are best developed and maintained by adequate sun exposure. Supplementing with vitamin D can have value, but won’t replace being in the sun.
While vitamin D is considered an essential nutrient, it functions more like a hormone. But the benefits of the sun go beyond this compound, especially the benefits obtained from the sun’s health effects through the eyes (without glasses of any type or contact lenses) and the influence on the brain and body. Consider the results from these studies:
- Light stimulation of the retina influences the production of melatonin by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is important for many aspects of health, not just sleep quality but also in regulating the body’s natural rhythms through other hormones.
- Reduced sun exposure and lower vitamin D may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- There is an approximately 80 percent lower incidence of Type 1 diabetes among those taking vitamin D supplementation during the first year of life.
- Sun exposure may lower the risk of multiple sclerosis, with vitamin D deficiency related to an increased frequency of relapse.
- Low vitamin D levels are related to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- In northern countries there is an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and embolism in winter as compared to summer.
- The lack of UVB radiation increases the risk of hypertension, reduces calcium absorption and impairs calcium metabolism.
- UV radiation induces endorphin production, which can reduce stress levels.
My go-to remedy to prevent colds and flu has always been the sun. The relationship between sun, vitamin D and the immune system is not new, but has become a hot area of research lately:
- Vitamin D has immunoregulatory properties, with deficiency associated with poor immune function and increased disease susceptibility.
- The sun and vitamin D have antimicrobial effects.
- Vitamin D may be protective against respiratory infections, such as tuberculosis (not a new idea), influenza and others.
- Individuals with chronic pulmonary disease are reported to have significantly more exacerbations in the presence of low vitamin D.
- Vitamin D supplementation (4000 IU/day) was found to reduce antibiotic consumption by approximately 60 percent in patients with immune deficiency.
- Patients >70 years of age who took vitamin D supplements consumed 50 percent less antibiotics compared to the placebo group.
- Low vitamin D levels may predict clostridium infection-associated diarrhea.
Our sun-phobic society, influenced largely by companies selling products, has resulted in generations of people avoiding the sun, significantly raising the risk of poor health and disease, including skin cancer.
There are three main types of skin cancer, with most but not all associated with UV light. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are similar and often grouped as non-melanoma skin cancers, and generally have a nonfatal prognosis. Malignant melanoma can be serious and fatal (through metastasis), and is typically associated with a history of sunburn, including excessive and frequent exposure to tanning beds.
Full exposure — full disclosure
For decades, the benefits of sun exposure have been suppressed by the commercial interests of companies selling skin-care products. These companies enlist the media to keep promoting their scare tactics. But the facts are slowly — too slowly — coming out in research.
Instead of hiding in the dark we should be exposing our bodies without protection like all our ancestors did to improve both health and fitness in our brains and bodies, including protection against diseases. Balance is the key word — avoiding overexposure while getting and keeping a great tan.