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Sunshine, Skin Cancer, and Vitamin D

Sunflower 1I’ve heard alot lately about how Vitamin D helps protect us from heart disease and other health problems and that spending time in the sun helps our body produce Vitamin D. I also know that exposure to UV radiation from sunlight (or tanning beds) is the number one risk factor for developing skin cancer.[1] We all love the sunshine. It helps plants grow, lifts our spirits, warms the planet and literally keeps the earth alive. How do we enjoy the sun, meet our body’s need for Vitamin D and protect ourselves from cancer at the same time? I’ve asked myself these questions many times before. Today I went looking for answers.

What I discovered while researching the subject is that our need to protect ourselves from skin cancer far outweighs our need for sunlight to generate Vitamin D. Extensive reviews of research by Deon Wolpowitz, MD, PhD, and Barbara A. Gilchrest, MD from the Department of Dermatology, Boston University School of Medicine, concluded that “The tradeoff of vitamin D production today for photoaging and skin cancer decades hence may have made sense millennia ago, when life expectancy was 40 years or less, but it’s a poor exchange when life expectancy has doubled, skin rejuvenation is a $35 billion/year industry, and one in three Caucasians develops skin cancer.” [2]

Here are few reminders from the CDC about UV exposure:

  • Avoid sun exposure during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you must be in the sun (and who doesn’t love a mid-day dip in the pool or spending time in the garden during this wonderful summer weather?) remember the following:

  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Avoid indoor tanning. [3]

From the same source noted above [2], to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels, James Spencer, MD, clinical professor of dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City suggests, “Drink vitamin D-fortified orange juice or milk or other enriched products. Eat salmon and other fatty fish. Or take a daily multivitamin containing 600 units of vitamin D. It’s so easy. And it’s a lot safer than lying in the sun or climbing undressed into a tanning booth and frying your whole body.”

That settles it for me. This summer I’m going to enjoy a little less sun and a little more salmon.

What do you think? Are you a sun-loving person? Can you give up an afternoon tanning session in favor of taking a vitamin supplement? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


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