We are often told by our doctors or other healthcare professionals, to make sure you put your sunscreen on before venturing outdoors and to avoid any exposure to the sun in order to reduce the likelihood of skin cancer. A major study was just published in The Journal of Internal Medicine which should make us rethink this well-meaning advice and make some healthy choices which can actually not only decrease our risk of skin cancer but significantly reduce premature death in general. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden recently published a study which shows that women who never sunbathe are twice as likely to die than women who sunbathe everyday.
We are often told that melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, is related to increased UV sun exposure. This latest research actually reveals that women who stay out of the sun are more at risk for melanoma and are twice as likely to die from any disease, including cancer. Nearly 30,000 women were followed for 20 years and revealed that avoiding sun exposure or slathering on sunscreen before heading out doubled the risk for premature death.
“The results of this study clearly showed that mortality was about double in women who avoided sun exposure compared to the highest exposure group,” stated lead study author Dr. Pelle Lindqvist about the findings. “Sun exposure advice which is very restrictive in countries with low solar intensity might in fact be harmful for women’s health.”
The relation between lack of sun exposure and premature death is believed to be connected with Vitamin D levels in the body. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that the body can produce on its own when your skin is exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is also found in some foods including eggs, organ meats, fish, cod liver oil and animal fat. Vitamin D is also found in many nutritional supplements. There are 2 types of Vitamin D: D2 and D3. D2 is the artificial form and D3 is the natural form. The body converts D3 into the active form of Vitamin D much more efficiently than D2.
Low Vitamin D levels are widespread not only in our country, but globally. Low Vitamin D levels have been shown to worsen virtually all illnesses and diseases. There have been direct links with increased levels of colorectal and breast cancer with low Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with the following diseases:
- Heart disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Infections including the Cold and Flu
The only way to find out if your getting enough Vitamin D between your sun exposure, foods and nutritional supplements is to have your blood levels tested. Normal ranges are 30-100 ng/ml, while most of the experts on Vitamin D recommend optimal leves are between 50-100 ng/ml.
This latest research does not condone careless sun exposure and sunburns should be avoided at all cost. Sunburns will damage your skin and increase your risk of certain skin cancers. How much sun exposure should you have before applying sunscreen or heading for shade? For most people, 15-20 minutes per day is adequate and once sun exposure causes your skin to slightly turn pink, it is time to cover up or lather up. People with darker skin pigmentation may require longer times to reach this point, but again, sunburns are dangerous.
There are natural ways to help protect your skin which include eating an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, which increase antioxidants in your body, which in turn help to protect your skin. Also increasing your omega-3 fats has been shown to decrease your risk of skin cancer. These are found in fish, walnuts and certain seeds. It has also been shown that increased intake of omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils like corn, soy, canola, sunflower and safflower increases the risk of skin cancer.
When it becomes necessary to break out the sunscreen, what things should be avoided? The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) creates an annual sunscreen guide which shares with you the best and safest sunscreens along with what things to avoid. Their top 8 recommendations include the following:
- No Spray Sunscreens
- No Super-High SPFs (over 50)
- No Oxybenzone
- No Loose Powder Sunscreens
- No Retinyl Palmitate
- No Combined Sunscreen/Bug Repellents
- No Sunscreen Towelettes
- No Tanning Oils
Based on this latest research, these are great tips not only while you’re on vacation, but for the entire year. Make a little time every day to bask in the sun!