Sunday, May 22, 2005

The MDs Had it Wrong - Episode 497

The associated Press reports that everything you heard about too much sunshine just might be wrong. Link.
The vitamin is D, nicknamed the "sunshine vitamin" because the skin makes it from ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen blocks its production, but dermatologists and health agencies have long preached that such lotions are needed to prevent skin cancer. Now some scientists are questioning that advice. The reason is that vitamin D increasingly seems important for preventing and even treating many types of cancer.

In the last three months alone, four separate studies found it helped protect against lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, lung and, ironically, the skin. The strongest evidence is for colon cancer.

Many people aren't getting enough vitamin D. It's hard to do from food and fortified milk alone, and supplements are problematic.

So the thinking is this: Even if too much sun leads to skin cancer, which is rarely deadly, too little sun may be worse.

No one is suggesting that people fry on a beach. But many scientists believe that "safe sun" — 15 minutes or so a few times a week without sunscreen — is not only possible but helpful to health.

I am a minor league sun worshiper. I have light skin and so I burn if I get too much sun right away. Yet I learned decades ago that if I slowly build up a base of tan, I can take more and more sun without burning. I do wear sunscreen, but I keep it within reason - usually using #8, which allows enough sun through to allow my skin to tan without burning. It now sounds like this also allows enough sun through to produce vitamin D.

Knowing the potential problems, I see a dermatologist once per year, and he freezes off the pre-cancerous stuff. I guess at heart, I am an Aristotelian. I believe in the golden mean. I can do things that I like that the "experts" say are dangerous, if I do them in moderation. Now it appears that my following this philosophy with respect to the sun may have been better for me than listening to the "experts" would have been.


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