The Sun May Kill You. Or it May Save Your Life.
Good news for sun worshipers: a 2013 study suggests that the health benefits of sun exposure may outweigh the skin cancer risk.
Skin and cancer experts have long warned people that sun exposure — and not even that much of it — could lead to skin cancer. Beauty experts have said the same because of the link between sunlight and wrinkles, as well as age spots.
At the same time, some doctors recommend that people get a little sun, unmediated by sunblock, because without it our bodies don’t manufacture Vitamin D. Psychiatrists prescribe sun for patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Which is it? Should we catch some rays or not?
The new study doesn’t deny the link between sun exposure and skin cancer. Instead, it suggests that the benefits of sunning may outweigh that risk. The reason for all the hedging is that so far, there is just the one study supporting that view. It found that sunlight reduces blood pressure, which in turn lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes. That would be quite a benefit: in the U.K., “heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure are estimated to lead to around 80 times more deaths than those from skin cancer,” reports Science Daily.
But it’s not time to hit the beach just yet (aside from the fact that temperatures are below freezing all over the place — I’ve got 9 degrees Fahrenheit at the moment). According to the BBC, “researchers said more studies would be carried out to determine if it is time to reconsider advice on skin exposure.”
Here are the specifics of the traditional advice, courtesy of the American Cancer Society:
Protect your skin from the sun like it was cooties.
- Seek shade.
- Cover as much skin as possible with clothes that are dark, tightly woven, and dry, or with specially made UV-protective garments.
- Use sunscreen — but don’t rely on it, because it doesn’t block all UV rays. The explanation on this one gets far into the weeds; for the details visit the American Cancer Society‘s website.
- Wear a hat with a brim that shades your face, neck and ears.
- Wear sunglasses and even regular prescription or reading glasses that filter out UV rays — on top of skin cancer, UV light can cause eye diseases.
- Adopt a vampiric schedule of night-time activity and day-time sleep, and brick over your windows to be sure not one particle of light gets through while you snooze (not officially endorsed by the ACS).
Except don’t stay out of the sun entirely.
- Rickets (soft bones)
- Osteomalacia (fragile, misshapen bones)
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Autoimmune disease
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- Neuromuscular diseases
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to down a vat of D. Unfortunately, there is no definitive evidence that the Vitamin D in food and supplements confers all these benefits, while the sun is a sure bet. Nevertheless, because of its hazards, dermatologists and oncologists still recommend relying on food and pills to get this nutrient, and always wearing sunblock outdoors.
If you want to gamble on the sun, the formula is 30 minutes of basking sunblock-free twice a week.
My advice: keep an eye out for new studies about UV rays’ effects on our health. Maybe one of these days the scientific and medical professions will make up their minds.
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