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omen's Nutrition Detective
 


Don't Overuse Your Sunscreen; Sunlight Prevents Cancer

© Nan Kathryn Fuchs PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Women's Nutrition Detective by Nan Kathryn Fuchs PhD. View all columns in series
There's a nutrient your body can produce with a little outside help that can protect you from cancer, diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis. It's low in people with autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease.

Doctors of integrative medicine are prescribing it in large doses to their patients for all of these conditions and are finding it beneficial. What's more, it’s readily available. You can walk into any health food store and get it in supplement form, or you can get it for absolutely nothing.

Unfortunately, your doctor may be scaring you away from taking advantage of this free solution to so many devastating diseases including skin cancer.

What is it? Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin. If you spend enough time outdoors, the sunlight will help your body make vitamin D. This, in turn, can reduce your risk for a host of health problems.

But dermatologists and other doctors are saying that sunlight, the foundation for all life on this planet, is dangerous. They’re telling you to slather your body with sunscreen before you leave the house to go shopping or spend a little time in the garden. They say that any exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays promotes cancers. This is only partially true. Unlike manmade radiation, which is unsafe at any level, UV rays are harmful only in excessive amounts. Researcher William Grant, PhD, found that small doses of UVB radiation actually protects against 16 forms of cancer.

Sunlight and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
It's been said that UV exposure increases your risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a group of cancers that begin in the lymph cells. But a 60-year-long study from Australia found the opposite was true. Exposure to the sun actually protected people from NHL. Those people with the most exposure to sunlight had a 35 percent lower risk for getting these cancers than people with the least. What about those who only spent time outdoors on weekends and holidays? They had less than half the risk for NHL over people who remained indoors.

Sunlight and skin cancers
What about skin cancers? It's true that too much sunlight can be dangerous. It's not smart to spend hours every day in intense sun. It's not healthy to get sunburns. In fact, the more you burn — especially when you're young — the more likely you are to end up with skin cancer later in life. But knowing this shouldn't prevent you from spending some time outdoors in the sun getting your daily dose of vitamin D.

The most dangerous form of skin cancer is melanoma. Everyone I've met who has had a melanoma is afraid to get any sun on his or her skin. Yet, a 10-year study of sailors in the Navy found that sailors who worked indoors had more melanomas than those who worked both indoors and outdoors. What’s even more surprising is that there were more melanomas on their midsections than on their exposed face or arms!

How much sunlight is enough and not too much?
It depends on whom you ask. Traditional doctors say that you can get around 400 IU of vitamin D a day by exposing your face and arms to 15 minutes of light a day. They say this is enough. I don't agree. It may be enough to prevent rickets and other vitamin D-deficiency diseases, but it won’t give you the same protection as 15-30 minutes of exposure to very bright sunlight each day.

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About The Author
Nan Fuchs, Ph.D. is an authority on nutrition and the editor and writer of Women's Health Letter, the leading health advisory on nutritional healing for women. She is the author of the best-selling books, The Nutrition Detective: A Woman's Guide to Treating your Health Problems Through the Foods You Eat, Overcoming......more
 
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