Get into the sun as avoidance may shorten your life and be as bad as smoking.
We have removed the balconies from hospitals that were used in the past to give patients the benefits of sensible sun exposure and improve vitamin D status although this may have helped reduce the incidence of nurses back problems and a reduction in the need for wards persons it may have also reduced the chances of recovery in hospital for some.
A recent all-cause mortality study of 29,518 Swedish women in a prospective 20-year follow-up study found that avoidance of sun exposure increases the risk of death and women who have regular sun exposure compared to those who don’t live longer. The authors also reported that lack of sun exposure had a similar effect on length of life as smoking(1).
If these results are replicated, then we need to get our act together. However, smoking has NO health benefits and quitting is a must.
The need for increased sun exposure may also help cancer sufferers. Higher levels of vitamin D obtained from the sun or supplements are linked to better outcomes in several types of cancer. Study results found higher vitamin D blood levels may improve the prognosis and outcome for people with some cancers including breast cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma (2,3)
A moderate amount of unblocked sunlight may be beneficial to most people, and could reduce the risk of many other diseases – including, paradoxically, melanoma itself.
Those who experience continual exposure to lower levels even if the total dose of UV (sun) radiation is the same, have the lowest incidence of melanoma. That is, non-burning regular sun exposure such as obtained in the early morning and later in the afternoon seems to have a protective effect against some skin cancer(4)
Another example of this paradox is research from the University of California School of Medicine. This study found that higher incidence of melanoma occurred among Navy indoor desk workers than among sailors who worked outdoors (5)
Also, a study from the Department of Dermatology, The Saarland University Hospital, Hamburg, Germany that examined the progression of malignant melanoma reported. Starting vitamin D levels were lower in melanoma patients as compared to the control group. And progression of malignant melanoma was associated with significantly reduced blood vitamin D levels. Their findings add to the growing body of evidence that vitamin D serum levels may be of importance for pathogenesis and progression of malignant melanoma (6)
Sunlight not only allows us to make vitamin D, which is credited with many health benefits and healthier living, but a surprise research finding could reveal another powerful benefit of getting some sun.
Georgetown University Medical Centre researchers have found that sunlight, through a mechanism separate than vitamin D production, energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity(7)
The idea of a need for correct and sensible sun exposure is not new. The Hydro Majestic Hotel, in the Blue Mountains NSW was originally Australia's first health retreat and Naturopathic Hospital (around 1903) that under direction of Dr George Baur as the chief medical doctor, formerly of the "Shoeneck" health spa on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland developed a program of diets and some weird and wonderful treatments that included regular safe sun exposure, good eating and regular bathing which was not a common occurrence.
This good lifestyle and sun exposure approach is not fully supported by our peak bodies who encourage DON'T go into the sun unless you cover up, apply a sun block and stay in the shade. It is no wonder that there is an increase in diseases associated with reduced immune function and low vitamin D status are on the increase.
What is urgently needed is graph type sun exposure program that covers skin types ethnic background and latitude. An example being a person from Scotland with a fair completion and red hair would have a completely different safe sun exposure time at any latitude compared to someone with olive skin type and someone living in Cairns would need a different table to the same skin type living in Hobart.
The bottom line is daily unprotected safe sun non-burning exposure could be an important factor in disease prevention and adjunctive management.
It is also important if you think you have cancer or any disease that you see your doctor for a correct diagnosis and treatment program.
1.Lindqvist PG1, Epstein E2, et al. Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: a competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. J Intern Med. 2016 Oct;280(4):375-87
2. Mian Li, Peizhan Chen,et al. Review:The Impacts of Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels on Cancer Patient Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2014
3. Setright R. Is There A Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic In Australia, And If So, Is This A Major Contributing Factor To Disease? Journal of the Australia Traditional Medicine Society date2011
4. Article, Prevention & Early Detection, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre 2008.
5. Garland FC. et al. Occupational sunlight exposure and melanoma in the U.S. Navy. Arch Environ Health. 1990 Sep-Oct;45(5):261-7).
6. Nürnberg B, et al. Progression of malignant melanoma is associated with reduced 25-hydroxyvitamin D serum levels.Exp Dermatol. 2008 Jul;17(7):627).
7. Thieu X. Phan, Barbara Jaruga, et al. Intrinsic Photosensitivity Enhances Motility of T Lymphocytes. Scientific Reports, 2016