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The health benefits of UV radiation exposure through vitamin D production or non-vitamin D pathways

Posted on: February 17, 2017   by  Dr William Grant


This issue of Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences contains 15 perspectives that seek to distinguish the contribution of vitamin D-dependent and vitamin D-independent pathways, initiated by UV radiation exposure, to beneficial health outcomes.

The themed issue will be formally published on March 15, 2017. However, all content will be available as open access for 6 months, starting February 6, 2017. The themed issue is titled ‘The health benefits of UV radiation exposure through vitamin D production or non-vitamin D pathways.’ All one must do to gain access is register, free of charge.[1]

During the past 1-2 decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in the health benefits of vitamin D. Concurrently, there has been considerable negative publicity about solar and artificial UV exposure. The negative publicity appears to be counterproductive for several reasons:

  • Solar UVB exposure is the primary source of vitamin D for most people in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Melanoma incidence rates have climbed during the past several decades as average time spent out of doors has decreased.
  • There are health benefits of solar radiation exposure in addition to vitamin D production.

Throughout history, there have been pendulum swings regarding sun exposure. In ancient history, the sun was worshipped as the source of life. In the early part of the twentieth century, sun exposure and vitamin D were used to treat rickets and tuberculosis. In the 1920s, Coco Chanel arrived back from a boat cruise with a deep tan, setting off interest in tanning. In the 1930s, the U.S. government promoted sun exposure, especially for children. In the 1970s, the specter of ozone decreased, resulting in increased UVB doses and increased risk of skin cancer and melanoma. This led to the development of sunscreens and public health messages to either avoid the sun or slather on sunscreen when in the sun. Australia was at the forefront of this movement because the European-ancestry inhabitants had skin type suited for low-UV dose as in northern Europe, and because the ozone hole was discovered over Antarctica. Slip! Slap! Slop! became the order of the day, and school children were not allowed to participate in sports unless they wore long sleeves and a hat.

With more information regarding the health benefits of UV exposure and vitamin D given to the public, the pendulum is starting to swing back towards a healthy attitude towards sun exposure. Thus, it is a good sign that this themed issue was organized in part by Australians.

The papers in this themed issue generally start with the premise that both higher 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (called vitamin D levels hereafter) and UV exposure are linked to better health outcomes. The researchers examined whether vitamin D status could explain the benefits of UVB exposure and, if not, what might be the non-vitamin D roles of UV exposure.

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