Since the 1980s, physicians and cancer groups have regularly warned the public against the potential health dangers of direct sunlight on skin. As a result, many people have stayed out of the sunlight completely, covered their limbs even in warm weather or slathered themselves with UV protection products, all in the interest of lowering their risk of melanomas.
However, more recent findings indicate that this kind of nearly vampiric avoidance of the sun may not benefit your cancer odds after all.
A 2009 study by a group of Leeds University researchers found that higher levels of Vitamin D were linked to improved skin cancer survival odds. Other studies have found that Vitamin D has a connection to a strong immune response in the body. In fact, Vitamin D may hasten the death of tumor cells.
Unfortunately, most people have low levels of Vitamin D, leaving them at higher risk for a host of diseases including breast cancer, prostate cancer, bowel cancer, cervical cancer, rickets and osteoporosis.
“It’s common for the general public to have low levels of vitamin D in many countries,” said Professor Julia Newton Bishop of the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine and author of the Leeds study. “Melanoma patients tend to avoid the sun as sunburn is known to increase the risk of melanoma. We use sunshine to make vitamin D in the skin, so melanoma patients’ levels of vitamin D may be especially low.”
Bishop also noted that people can get more Vitamin D through dietary sources such as fatty fish. She points out that balance is key, as extremely high levels of Vitamin D can have a negative effect on health.
The mainstream media continues to run stories every summer warning people against the sun even two years after the Leeds study. While hours of sunbathing may be risky behavior for your long-term health, receiving a moderate amount of sunlight while out gardening or walking is actually as good for you as eating a low-fat diet and engaging in regular exercise. In fact, laying off the sunscreen may help you not only absorb sunshine into your skin to help fight tumors, but also helps you avoid the chemicals in most commercial sun blocking products. Some studies have indicated that these chemicals can actually generate harmful free radicals in the body.
Akilah M. El, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor and board-certified Master Herbalist with a private practice in Atlanta Georgia and Berlin Germany. Join Dr Akilah El on Facebook and Twitter