The Sun: Myths and Facts
Healthy Living Report on Sunlight, Sunscreen and Tanning.
MYTH: THE SUN IS TO BE AVOIDED
FACT: THE SUN IS OUR SOURCE OF LIFE
Without the sun’s energy, we would have no plants (grasses, fruits, vegetables, trees), and therefore no animal life – and no people. Without the warmth and energy from the sun, which is our nearest star, earth would be lifeless and colorless like the moon. It is easy to see why the sun is worshiped by many cultures – it is the ultimate source of energy and life.
MYTH: SUNLIGHT IS DANGEROUS TO OUR HEALTH
FACT: SUNLIGHT IS A SOURCE OF HEALTH AND HEALING
Especially in the instance of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is lack of sunshine causing a form of depression during the darker, winter months, the sunlight can improve your mood and ease the depression. It can boost your hormones and increase your immune system, helping you resist infections. It can strengthen your bones, protect you from osteoporosis and lower your blood pressure. It helps with skin diseases and infections eg psoriasis and eczema and can also improve acne. As we know from ourselves choosing to use shopping carts that have been standing in the sun, it can be used as a disinfectant.
Sunlight therapy is called “heliotherapy” and can be traced back to ancient times in Egypt and Greece. More recently, it has been used to treat infected wounds and ulcers where other treatments have failed. During World War 1, heliotherapy was used to prevent and treat tetanus and gangrene, and to help burns heal.
The role of vitamin D
Your skin makes Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. This particular vitamin is needed for calcium absorption (to prevent osteoporosis), for improved muscular coordination and for protection from cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D is also involved in gene regulation – in over 1000 different genes! It does so much more than a normal vitamin that some researchers are considering it a hormone absolutely necessary for a healthy life.*
A March 2009 study revealed a very alarming fact – 3 out of 4 Americans are deficient in vitamin D. So many people have been scared into avoiding the sun and using sunscreen, hats, scarves and long sleeves to cover their bodies that they are not getting the necessary exposure to the sun to make enough vitamin D. In addition, those who are obese are even more deficient in this vitamin. Bruce Hollis, MD of the Medical University of South Carolina states that “We know that obesity and increased BMI causes a reduction of vitamin D in the blood”. **
MYTH: SUNLIGHT CAUSES CANCER
FACT: SUNLIGHT REDUCES THE RISK OF MANY CANCERS
As one researcher bluntly states “Reducing exposure to solar radiation, far from preventing cancer, may have the opposite effect”.#
In 1941, Frank Apperly, MD, found that sunlight produces immunity to cancer. His research revealed that cities in the northern latitudes had 150% more cancer than those in the sunniest southern latitudes.##
This finding was re-affirmed in 1993 by Gordon Ainsleigh, MD, who reviewed 50 years of scientific research into the effects of sunlight on health. He concluded that the benefits of regular sun exposure outweighed by a considerable degree the risks of squamous-basal skin cancer, accelerated aging and melanoma. He found trends in epidemiological studies suggesting that moderate, regular sunbathing would result in about 1/3 lowering of breast and colon cancer death rates in the United States. Colon and breast cancer are the 2nd and 3rd leading causes of cancer deaths in North America and Dr Ansleigh estimated that about 30,000 cancer deaths could be prevented each year if moderate sunbathing on a regular basis became the norm. +
How does sunlight protect against cancer? Vitamin D is thought to be the mechanism. “The association between the latitude and breast cancer suggests that higher UV-B (ultraviolet-B ) exposure is protective…spurs production of vitamin D…other research suggests vitamin D may help ward off cancer”. ++
MYTH: SUN EXPOSURE CAUSES SKIN CANCER
FACT: SUNLIGHT IS ONLY ONE FACTOR FOR DEVELOPING SKIN CANCER
The fairer the skin, the more easily it is sunburned and damaged. The biggest risk for skin cancer is having fair skin – with or without the use of sunscreen. 90% of skin cancers are squamous or basal cell carcinomas which are rarely life threatening and are easily removed during outpatient surgery. Other factors, such as poor nutrition and toxicity, have also been implicated as co-factors in cancer development.
What about melanoma?
This is a serious form of skin cancer that is malignant and can spread to internal organs, often leading to death. Melanoma usually appears in areas not exposed to the sun. Sam Shuster, MD, specialist in dermatology, says that melanoma occurrence decreases with greater sun exposure and can increase with the use of sunscreens.+++
MYTH: SUNSCREEN PROTECTS YOUR HEALTH
FACT: SUNSCREEN MAY INCREASE YOUR RISK OF CANCER
SPF sunscreens appear to increase your chance of melanoma and also prevent you from producing sufficient vitamin D. Some contain the chemical Oxybenzone, which penetrates the skin, enters the bloodstream and disrupts our hormones.
MYTH: TANNING AND TANNING BOOTHS ARE DANGEROUS
FACT: TANNING IS NATURE’S PROTECTION
Practice “safe sun”. Use moderation. Tan slowly and never burn. Your body needs sunshine and if natural sunshine isn’t available, a tanning bed is the next best option for a small amount of time.
MYTH: IT’S BETTER FOR YOUR HEALTH TO STAY OUT OF THE SUN
FACT: SUNLIGHT IS ESSENTIAL FOR HEALTH
All life, human included, developed, evolved and thrived under sunlight. It is an essential nutrient for a healthy light. Just use common sense and don’t burn.
~ Tedd Koren, DC
[Ginanjar E, Sumariyono SS et al. Vitamin D and autoimmune disease. Acta Med Indones. 2007;39(3):133-141.]
[Lin J, Mandon JE et al. Intakes of calcium and vitamin D and breast cancer riskin women. Arch Intern Med.2007;167(10):1050-1059]
[Robien K,Cutler GJ, Lazovich D. Vitamin D intake and brast cancer rish in postmenopausal women: the Iowa women's health study. Cancer Causes & Control: CCC. 2007;18(7)775-782.]
# [Marks R, MElia J, Hawk, JLM. Sunlight and Health (letter). British Medical Journal. 1999;319:1066
## [Apperley FL. The relation of solar radiation to cancer mortality in North america. Cancer Res. 1941;1:191-195]
+ [Ainsleigh HG. Beneficial Effects of sun exposure on cancer mortality. Preventative Medicine. 1993;22:132-140]
++[Grant WB. An ecologic study of dietary and solar UV-B links to breast cancer mortality rates. Cancer. 2002;94:272-281]
[Boscoe, FP, Schymura, MJ. Solar ultraviolet-B exposure and cancer incidence and mortality in the INited States, 1993-2002. Cancer. 2006;6:264]
+++[Bertwick M, Armstrong BK, Ben-Porat L et al. Sun exposure and mortality from melanoma. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005;97:195-199.]