It’s becoming increasingly clear that strict avoidance of ultraviolet (UV) light significantly increase the risk of dying from internal cancers. Yes, the risks of developing one of the major cancer killers increase when we avoid the sun. In fact, Dr. Tuohimaa and company recently showed that the risk of developing almost all varieties of fatal internal cancers is less in those who spend time in the sun.
Apparently, none of the organizations and government agencies with “avoid the sun” campaigns considered the possibility that avoiding the sun would harm anyone. Seemingly, no one thought about how UV light might help us. No one remembered that humans evolved in the sun, living naked in the sun for almost all of our two million years on the planet. Only in recent years did we start avoiding the sun. In other words, we started messing with Mother Nature.
Furthermore, when the government and medical organizations began to tell us to avoid the sun in the early 1980s, they literally forgot to tell us to take a vitamin D supplement to make up for the vitamin D we’d no longer be making via the sun. Since so much vitamin D is made by the sun, you’d think the experts would have said, “Oh yes, be sure to take a vitamin D supplement if you avoid the sun.” Neither medical organizations nor the government did so.
Before you decide to just take a vitamin D supplement and completely avoid the UV light, think about a Greek word. It’s “hubris,” which means overbearing pride, presumption, or arrogance. If you decide simply to take a pill while completely avoiding all UV light, you are arrogantly assuming that modern science understands all of the beneficial effects of UV light and that the only good that UV light does is make vitamin D. You take pride that science is complete and knows everything. The Greeks abhorred such hubris and believed that the gods often punished it.
Let me give you an example. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a terrible disease. Dr. Becklund and Professor Hector Deluca of the University of Wisconsin were the first to discover that vitamin D retarded progression of an animal model of MS called “experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis” (EAE). While vitamin D suppresses the progression of EAE, continuous treatment with artificial ultraviolet radiation (as in sunbeds) works even better. He concluded that ultraviolet light was likely suppressing EAE independent of vitamin D production, and that vitamin D supplementation alone cannot replace UV light in an animal model of MS. If true in humans, it means that UV light contains something good in addition to vitamin D.
The wisest course is to get safe, short, reasonable, and regular full-body exposures during the warm months and judiciously use low-pressure UV beds and vitamin D supplements in the winter, recognizing that scientists and doctors don’t know everything. In fact, they got us into this vitamin D deficiency epidemic in the first place. Keep in mind that your ancestors evolved naked on the savannahs of equatorial Africa, eating bugs and roots from the ground with the sun shining directly overhead. Humans have a long evolutionary bond with the sun. When, with hubris, you sever the relationship between yourself and UV light, proceed at your peril.
Becklund BR, Severson KS, Vang SV, DeLuca HF. UV radiation suppresses experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis independent of vitamin D production. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 6;107(14):6418-23. Epub 2010 Mar 22.
Tuohimaa P, et al. Does solar exposure, as indicated by the non-melanoma skin cancers, protect from solid cancers: vitamin D as a possible explanation. Eur J Cancer. 2007 Jul;43(11):1701-12. Epub 2007 May 30.