The media and healthcare professionals have highlighted the harms and consequences of exposure to sunlight, however, there are many important benefits to sun exposure as well, which are often overlooked. Furthermore, sunscreen is often seen as the healthy choice for sun protection, but this also may have harmful consequences that rival those of sun overexposure that people are not aware of.
Sunshine is a vital ingredient for staying healthy and is your best source for essential vitamin D. Sunlight also provides you with numerous other health beneﬁts such as fighting depression. In recent studies, vitamin D has been shown to even protect against several types of cancer. Vitamin D is also important for proper absorption of calcium and in maintaining strong bones.
We hear a lot about skin cancer due to overexposure to the sun, but did you know that tens of thousands of North Americans die of cancer and other illnesses every year due to inadequate sun exposure and dire levels of vitamin D? In the U.S., the annual cost of treating illnesses due to the lack of sun exposure hovers around $56 billion – and only $6 billion is spent on treating illnesses due to overexposure to sunlight. Of course, it’s true that the sun can cause cancer when skin is exposed to excess amounts, so it’s important to avoid getting sunburned. But don’t avoid the sun altogether as it is still the best source of vitamin D and is better than taking it in tablets!
Most people are aware of the effects of Ultra Violet (UV) rays through painful sunburns, but the UV spectrum has many other effects, both beneficial and detrimental to our health. Darker-skinned people, however, will produce more of the natural skin-protecting substance called ‘eumelanin’, which may offer some protection from the negative effects of UVB and UVA. For starters, it’s important to be UV-knowledgeable; the sun emits ultraviolet radiation in UVA, UVB, and UVC rays and not all rays are created equal. The stratosphere filters out UVC rays, so they are of little concern. UVB rays are responsible for vitamin D production – something your body beneﬁts from. On the downside, UVB rays are also responsible for sunburn and damage to the surface of the skin. These rays cause moles, skin aging and some types of skin cancer. UVB rays only make up a fraction of UV light. Looking at UVA in a “positive light”, these will not cause sunburn but rather a tan and they cause less cancer than UVB rays. UVA rays make up the majority of UV light. Unfortunately, the cancer that UVA rays do cause is the most dangerous – melanoma. It also contributes more to skin aging and DNA damage than UVB rays and often times is less effectively blocked by sunscreens.
Skin cancer represents the most commonly diagnosed malignancy, surpassing lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. But despite what we have been led to believe, a reasonable amount of sun exposure reduces the risk of skin cancer because of the vitamin D stimulated by skin exposure to sunlight.
Another point to take into consideration is that skin cancers have been linked to a large disproportion in the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Our North American diets are often much higher in Omega-6 and may place us at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. Increasing your intake of Omega-3 is therefore very important to rebalance your Omega-6 to Omega- 3 ratio.
For more information about vitamin D, Omega-3 and Omega-6, as well as more tips for living at your best, check out Dr. Nathalie’s book Wellness On The Go at www.drnathaliebeauchamp.ca.