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The Sun Is Out... Don't Hide

By Kenneth S. Solomon, D.C.

 Summertime.  Warm weather. Vacations.  Less scheduled.  Beaches and boating.  Golf and tennis.  All the activities we look forward to.  We are outside for much longer.  Exposed longer to the sun.  Do we hide or embrace it?  Lower the risk of skin cancer or create Vitamin D?  Is the sun bad or good?

     Think of this; if sun exposure was truly dangerous why aren’t we extinct?  The short answer is that exposure to the sun, especially in the summertime is critical to our health and vitality.  We must soak up the sunshine.

     Excessive skin exposure, especially with sunburn (five lifetime sunburns doubles your risk of skin cancer) damages our skin.  The DNA in the deep epidermal layers can be altered or destroyed.  Ultraviolet (UV) waves can destroy skin proteins.  Wrinkles are the least of the effects.  Skin cancer is the harshest product. Without sunglasses to block those rays, 90% of UV light is absorbed by the cornea.  Corneal damage, cataracts and macular degeneration are possibilities.

     There are three major types of skin cancer, for which excessive sun exposure is the cause.  Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas account for nearly 98% of skin cancers.  There are about 4,000,000 cases each year in the USA of basal cell and another million for squamous cell.  This is a  high incidence in the general population.  They rarely metastasize and are almost always cured.  The 2000 Americans who die each year from these cancers are usually elderly, immune challenged and rarely seek timely medical help.  

     Melanoma is much more dangerous.  It is only 1% of all skin cancers but is responsible for the vast majority of resulting deaths.  It can metastasize.  Over 9000 Americans die each year.  This number has stabilized and is now decreasing, likely because of earlier detection and better treatment. The five-year survival rate of early detected melanoma is now at 98%!  Oh…most melanomas and the most dangerous types occur on the skin where exposure to the sun is the least!  

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     The WHO (World Health Organization) has stated that skin cancers are a nearly insignificant health problem.  Though there is a high incidence it only represents 0.1% of the global health burden, reducing its significance relative to other health issues.

     According to the WHO we have a conundrum.  Excessive sun exposure increases skin cancer risk.  Underexposure increases the risk to a plethora of our most common and deadly health issues.  Incidence and morbidity (deaths) from these diseases are all greatly increased with not enough sunshine on our skin. Not through clothing or windows or sunscreen, but direct sunshine.  

     There is a simple formula.  UV rays (sunshine) + skin, via a photosynthetic reaction, produces Vitamin D.  We can not eat enough food to provide adequate amounts.  We can not supplement enough to replace the need for sunshine, though year round Vitamin D is an important part of the health equation.  

     Excessive exposure is never needed.  Thirty minutes in the summer, with our skin 40% exposed, while your shadow is shorter than you, will produce almost 50,000 units of Vitamin D in the body.  This number lessens for those who are tanned or dark skinned so more exposure is needed.  Increased Vitamin D production can be stored for those bleaker months of the year where supplementation becomes a must.  It is estimated that more than 80% of Americans suffer from low Vitamin D levels.  Even in California and Florida.

     We are more of a cave man than the caveman was. The caveman (or woman) slept in his cave. When the sun rose he was out all day.  Hunting, collecting berries and exploring.  Then he would return to his cave at nightfall.  We live in our cave homes, travel in our cave cars, work in our cave offices, exercise in our cave gyms and are rarely outside in the sun.  When we are, we wear too much clothing and are covered with sunscreen.  Yikes!

    The most basic effect of Vitamin D in our blood is to balance calcium and phosphorous so normal bone growth and formation can be maintained.  Severe D deficiencies result in Rickets.  We do not see much bow legging here, but there is more than you think.  Worldwide it is a significant problem.

     Research data from many, many studies over the last decade are beginning to show us the importance of Vitamin D.  High levels, 40-60 ng/ml (nanograms/milliliter in the blood) and perhaps 80 and above, have been shown to significantly decrease the risk of almost every major disease:  asthma, TB (by 32%), osteoporosis, osteomalacia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, MS, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema and more.  Breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer all have reduced incidence with high levels of Vitamin D.  Taking about 3000 units a day of Vitamin D3 daily as a complement to sunshine has been shown to reduce all cancers in women by 50-70%.  There are nearly 600,000 deaths due to cancer each year in America.

     If Vitamin D levels are high in young children their risk of developing type 1 diabetes is reduced by 80%.  High levels of D also boost your immune system, significantly reducing bacterial and viral infections, especially in the respiratory system.  Cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are reduced as Vitamin D is cardioprotective.  Ironically, increased sun exposure on early stage melanomas increases survival rates from this skin cancer.  Continuous occupational exposure to the sun will reduce the risk of forming melanomas in the first place.

     Shorter and more frequent sun exposure is most efficient at producing Vitamin D.  Fair skinned people need less exposure.  Sunburn should be avoided.  Sunglasses, that are UV blocking should be worn.

     Sunlight also increases daytime serotonin production which in turn increases melatonin production at night.  This leads to a better night’s sleep and improved mental focusing while awake.  

     Endorphin production is raised.  This results in a “sunbather’s high”.  Sunbathing really can make you feel better!

     Optimal levels of Vitamin D are still uncertain.  They are much greater than the recommended daily allowance (RDA).  Most studies with positive results have been done with levels at 60-80 ng/ml.  The dosing levels of Vitamin D3 (D2 is ineffective) during the non-summer months are still under contention.  Most will agree that 5000-7000 units/day will be optimal (don’t worry extra Vitamin D will rarely have a negative effect).  Perhaps 10,000 units or more each day if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  

     Soak up the sunshine, frequently for short periods.  Don’t burn.  Use less sunscreen.  Wear sunglasses.  Stay hydrated.  Have fun.  Go out….don’t hide, and your health and vitality will improve.

I appreciate any comments and suggestions. I apologize for the length.  It should have been longer.  I didn’t even mention the foods and supplements that can be taken to reduce sunburn risk, improve tanning and Vitamin D production.  Any questions?  

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