Thursday, October 1, 2009

Let the Sun Shine

Without the sun there would be no life on earth. Yet somehow over the last 30 year the sun has become something evil to be feared and avoided at almost all costs. Lets be very clear up front -getting sunburnt is not a good idea and if you do it often enough there is an increased chance of you developing skin cancer

Much like there is a difference between your steak being raw medium rare or burnt; there is a difference between getting adequate sun exposure, too little and too much. In the rush to avoid the sun at all costs there have been an unexpected problem. Many (estimated up to 40%) are now deficient in vitamin D. -the active form of which (D3) is produced in the body under uv light exposure.

Classic vitamin D deficiency (rickets) was associated with underground miners in the late 1800’s. It was thought that in the modern era, such deficiencies of vitamins would be unheard of in the developed world.

European studies on trials involving 57,000 people published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed vitamin D had an important role in helping protect against colon and breast cancer as well as diabetes and heart disease. The trials found that those with adequate levels of vitamin D had a 7% lower overall death risk during the six year period of the trial. The results prompted Professor Edward Giovannucci from the Harvard School of Public Health to call for a debate on the merits of “moderate sun exposure”.

The Moore’s Cancer Centre at the University of California suggested that up to 600,000 breast and colorectal cancers could be prevented each year if vitamin D3 levels among populations worldwide were increased.

Inadequate vitamin D may also have a role in the development asthma, osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s

So the obvious question becomes, how can one get the right amount of sunlight so as to get the benefits of adequate vitamin D in the body but not get excessive exposure .The exact amount of time doesn’t seem to have been determined yet, however, it is likely that something between 10-15 minutes per day on 4-6 days per week of sun exposure to the arms and face is likely to be enough for most people.

In other words, it is not about laying for three hours sunbaking. In particular, the best time to be out in the sunshine is before 10am or after 3pm. At this time, the risk of burning is reduced. The closer to sunrise and sunset, the longer one can stretch this out as the rays aren’t as strong and the risk of burning is lessened.

Unfortunately, the public health people are still paranoid about sunlight .For those doing DIY health the take home message is get the right amount of sun without getting burnt. This means getting a ”healthy” tan but not burning.

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