Light and dark side of the sun

2012-06-02T04:00:00Z 2012-06-06T10:24:32Z Light and dark side of the sunCynthia Billhartz St. Louis Post-Dispatch Rapid City Journal

Americans' relationship with the sun ranges from phobic to “tanorexic,” a term coined for people who seem addicted to the sun.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends leaning toward the phobic. The academy maintains there is no safe amount of sun when it comes to skin cancer risk.

Not for adults, and especially not for children.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that one in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime; more than 2 million people are diagnosed each year. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have it at least once.

Health experts believe children’s skin is particularly vulnerable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few serious sunburns during childhood can increase the risk of skin cancer later.

“We do think kids are more vulnerable, and animal models of melanoma agree with that,” said Dr. Lynn Cornelius, chief of dermatology at Washington University.

While most health experts agree that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays is bad, some think we’ve gone overboard with protecting ourselves from the sun.

Before vitamin supplements and fortified foods, the sun was the only source of vitamin D. The vitamin promotes calcium absorption, which is essential for bone growth.

One of the most outspoken critics of the no-sun approach is Dr. Michael F. Holick, an endocrinologist and professor of biophysics and physiology at Boston University.

In his 2009 book, “The Vitamin D Solution,” Holick argues that sun phobia is causing an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency. He recommends about 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure on the arms and legs two to three times a week.

His ideas are so controversial that he was fired from Boston University’s department of dermatology in 2004.

Some health experts, including Holick, believe Vitamin D deficiencies are contributing to a host of health problems beyond osteoporosis, including cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders and even cancer.

Dr. George Griffing, an endocrinologist and professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University Medical School, won’t go that far, but he does agree that the sun is a good source of Vitamin D.

In the summer, Griffing suggests spending 10 to 20 minutes a day outdoors wearing short sleeves, a hat and no sunscreen.

Dark skinned people have to be in the sun about twice as long to get the same benefit, he said. But he estimated only about 20 percent of people are Vitamin D deficient.

Some estimates have put that rate as high as 80 percent. Regardless, most people don’t need expensive testing to determine their Vitamin D levels, Griffing said. They can get enough of the vitamin by taking supplements and consuming fortified foods and milk. Oily species of fish, such as tuna and salmon also contain Vitamin D.

But for people who have had bariatric surgery and are having a difficult time absorbing Vitamin D from fortified foods and supplements, the sun is a simple and effective option, Griffing said.

Cornelius prefers supplements. “We don’t like to advocate UV exposure as a way to get Vitamin D,” she said. “Why would you expose yourself to the sun and its carcinogens when you don’t have to?”

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. Johnie Sunshine
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    Johnie Sunshine - June 04, 2012 8:57 am
    Here is the USDA link to food levels of Vitamin D -
  2. Johnie Sunshine
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    Johnie Sunshine - June 04, 2012 8:28 am
    The human skin makes about 15,000 IU's of vitamin D from the sun per day before it stops making it. This can take from 30-240 minutes depending the time of the year, where you live, and skin type. Our ancestors (and many people who work outside today) generally received this much Vitamin D almost every day. Our bodies evolved on this. This is what we need for optimal health. Tell me how someone is going to get that much vitamin D from food? Here is a link to the USDA food chart showing vitamin D levels. Can anyone reading this honestly say that between what they eat each day and their one-a-day vitamin they are getting anywhere close to 15,000 IU's?

    We need sunlight, we need UV-B sun rays. Our body makes other vitamin D like substances when exposed to sun that have yet to be studied. Everyone should get a safe amount of (unprotected) sun as often as possible. Go out just enough to get a very little pink, then put on protection ("full spectrum" sunblock, preferably mineral based) cover up, or go inside. Do not allow yourself to burn. You'll need to experiment with this by going slowly getting a little more sun each time, until you learn your limit. As you build up a little tan you'll be able to tolerate more. The goal is to never burn, if you are beat red, peal, or blister you got way too much sun.

    Now go out and enjoy the sun, it feels good, and its good for you!
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