For several years, the watchword has been not to expose yourself to the sun and to cover your skin with sunscreen. But, is that the best thing to do?
According to specialists, most of us lack vitamin D, a hormone produced by the skin with the sun’s collaboration. However, too low a level of this vitamin in the blood increases the risk of developing almost all diseases: cancers, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, heart attack, depression, cognitive disorders, and autoimmune diseases.
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone.
When our ancestors lived outdoors in tropical regions, the question did not arise. However, today we lead a sedentary life. We can stay for whole days without putting our noses outside.
According to research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nine out of ten people today spend about 22 hours a day indoors. When we go out, as good students, we cover our exposed skin with sunscreen, as we have learned to protect it from dangerous UV rays responsible for cancers.
And because sunscreen reduces the natural production of vitamin D, we are encouraged to compensate by swallowing pills of the same vitamin. (Still, vitamin D has many benefits that could save your life.
He observed in participants exposed to the equivalent of 30 minutes of sun without sunscreen an increase in nitric oxide levels in the blood and a decrease in blood pressure. Due to its link to heart disease and stroke, hypertension is the leading cause of death worldwide. This decrease would be significant enough to prevent many deaths yearly.
Avoiding the sun would be comparable to smoking
Would the sun’s rays increase the incidence of skin cancer at the same time? Yes, but curiously, skin cancer kills less than we think: less than three in 100,000 people a year in the United States (and for every subject who dies from skin cancer, about 80 succumb to cardiovascular disease).
In Europe, six out of every 100,000 people die from skin cancer, and for each, about 63 die from cardiovascular disease. So make sure you know these symptoms of cardiovascular disease to take seriously!
If this reality escapes us, several different diseases remain grouped under the term skin cancer. The most common are basal and squamous cell carcinomas, which are rarely fatal. “When I diagnose a basal cell carcinoma in one of my patients, I start by congratulating him because he will leave my office with a better life expectancy than when he entered.
Those who suffer from this type of cancer, associated with prolonged exposure to the sun, tend to be healthy and indulge in many outdoor activities.
These words are rather radical within the dermatologist community. “We know melanoma is deadly,” says a dermatologist. However, we also know that it is due to sun exposure in most cases. So we have to be careful.”
The sun in a few figures
However, Dr Weller continues to provide evidence that contradicts the official injunction to avoid sun exposure. The best comes from Pelle Lindqvist, Senior Research Fellow in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Over 20 years, he tracked the sun exposure habits of about 30,000 women in Sweden.
Initially, it was a question of studying blood clots, which are less common in the summer and in women who spend more time in the open air. Doctors also looked at type 2 diabetes. The incidence was lower among sun worshippers. What about melanoma? The risk increased with sun exposure, but with eight times less danger of dying.
He then turned his attention to overall mortality rates, and the results stunned him. Over the 20 years of the study, mortality was twice as high in those who avoided the sun as in those who exposed themselves to its rays. Moreover, few lifestyles double the risk of dying. In a study published in 2016, Pelle Lindqvist’s team put these findings into perspective: “In terms of life expectancy, avoiding sun exposure is a risk factor comparable to smoking.”
The sun essential for survival
Dermatologists spend a lot of time caring for patients with appalling melanomas. It is, therefore, normal for them to be concerned about prevention. But their alarmist message forgot another danger: the lack of sun exposure among seniors. Vitamin D is the tip of the solar iceberg. Sunlight triggers the release of other essential molecules in the body, such as serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, pancreatic and colorectal cancer; improves circadian rhythms; reduces inflammation and inhibits autoimmune responses. And virtually all mental illnesses are relieved. Plus, it’s free.
These are benefits that everyone should be able to enjoy. Nevertheless, no one remains housed in the same brand. Those with darker skin need larger doses of sunlight to reap benefits. Alas, they, too, receive a message to the contrary.
The first humans evolved outdoors under a tropical sun. Like air, water and food, the sun’s rays provided an essential contribution to survival. Thanks to evolution, the skin has protected itself from natural protection against UV, melanocytes, and the cells that make melanin. As a result, our dark-skinned African ancestors produced so much melanin that they didn’t have to worry about the sun.
The important thing is not to burn
People of colour rarely suffer from melanomas. In the United States, the incidence is 26 per 100,000 among whites, 5 per 100,000 among Hispanic Americans, and 1 per 100,000 among African Americans. The few times this happens in a subject of African descent, melanoma is particularly deadly – but it usually develops on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet or under the nails and is not due to the sun.
Yet, people continue to remain pushed to believe in little protection from the sun. For example, on its website, the American Society of Dermatology “recommends that everyone, regardless of skin colour, protect themselves from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays by putting themselves in the shade and wearing protective clothing. And applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a protection factor of 30 and above.
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