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Summer is here, and being so, we all spend a greater amount of time outdoors. Today, parents are almost considered abusive if they do not protect their children from the sun, a presumed cause of skin cancer. This article will bring new light to your attitudes about sun exposure, causes of skin cancers and the traditional sunscreens we rely on.
Let the Sun Shine In
Natural sunlight is necessary for good health. Daily moderate exposure enables the body to produce Vitamin D and synthesize melanin (our body’s natural sunscreen). Overexposure to the sun causes photo damage to the skin, actinic keratoses, a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma. It is also immunosuppressive and accelerates skin aging. Underexposure is dangerous as well, as one becomes “light deficient.” Light deficiency induces Vitamin D deficiency, thus accelerating melanoma growth risks.
Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh is a proponent of regular moderate sun exposure, which he believes can prevent as many as 30,000 cancer deaths in the United States yearly. A study published in CANCER (March 2002: 94:1867-75) bolsters his thesis. Rates of thirteen types of cancer were found to be higher in New England where people may not be synthesizing Vitamin D at all due to lack of sunlight in the wintertime. Deaths from cancers of the rectum, stomach, uterus, bladder and others were nearly double of that of people in the southwest. Dietary patterns were compared and little difference was noted. Most sunscreens are designed to block UVB rays, which are from what Vitamin D are synthesized. In light of this report and others, along with epidemiological studies linking a lack of sun exposure to sub-optimal Vitamin D levels, it may be time to reevaluate our notions of sun exposure and its effects on our health.
Putting Light on the Subject of Skin Cancer
Although sun exposure is usually blamed for skin cancer, these studies reveal provocative findings.
- Melanoma was occurring in areas where sunscreen is used the most and melanoma rates are highest among those that avoid the sun and work in indoor urban environments.
- A study in BMJ examined the relationship between indoor fluorescent lights and the ever rising rate of melanoma. Taking into account such factors as hair color, skin type and the history of sun exposure, it was found that working under fluorescent lights had doubled the risk of melanoma in the subjects of the test group.
- Evidence that the sun was the causative factor in the development of melanoma was weak and inconclusive. Tanned skin from regular exposure to the sun and people who received more sunlight were less vulnerable to the deleterious effects of fluorescent lights.
- Russian researchers found women working under fluorescent lights to be at a greater risk of melanoma. In 1990, a U.S. Navy study found the highest rates of melanoma in those that worked indoors.
- In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review showing that the omega 6:3 ratio was the key to preventing skin cancer development. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are both essential for human health, however the typical American consumes far too many omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega-3. While the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1! The primary sources of omega-6 are corn, soy, safflower and sunflower oil; these oils are overabundant in the typical diet, which explains our excess omega-6 levels. Avoid or limit these oils.