Lay Off That Sunscreen–You’ll Never Guess What Might Be Just As Bad For You As Smoking
A shocking new study suggests an outright blasphemy to all the things we’ve been taught about skin health and avoiding cancer: we should be getting more sun, not less. But the findings are too compelling to ignore.
The study followed more than 25,500 Swedish women between the ages of 25 and 64 for 20 years, garnering detailed information about their sun exposure habits. Other factors, known as confounding factors were also gathered and analyzed in a “competing risk” scenario.
But the findings were surprising: women who had regular sun exposure had a lower all-cause mortality risk, which the researchers suggest is likely due to their increased vitamin D levels. What was also interesting was that the women with active sun exposure habits ended up showing a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and non-cancer death compared to those who avoided sun exposure.
But here’s where it gets really shocking. As noted in the report:
“Nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking. Compared to the highest sun exposure group, life expectancy of avoiders of sun exposure was reduced by 0.6–2.1 years,”
Now, it has been known for centuries if not millennia that humans require sunlight for optimal health. In far north communities in Scandinavia, mothers have for centuries been known to take their babies outside on sunny days, even in the bitterest cold of the dead of winter, just long enough to get a bit of sun exposure, even if only to the face.
Those long-ago women may not have known what it was about the sun that provided their young ones with healthful benefits, they may not have even known that such a thing as Vitamin D exists.
But they knew it kept their kids from a host of illnesses, which we now know to include cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, infections including influenza, and even cancer.
So back to the study: it suggests that in our zealotry to avoid melanoma–which it must be said is a horrible and debilitating form of cancer that must be taken quite seriously–we may have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.
But perhaps a little perspective is in order: in the same region where the study was performed, the ratio of deaths from hypertension, stroke or heart disease is 60 to 100 times greater than the risk of skin cancer.
Of course in areas with stronger and more steady sunlight, these numbers will be different. But perhaps it is time to take a step back from our knee-jerk rejection of the sunlight.
Perhaps we are all badly in need of a dose of common sense to go along with that shot of Vitamin D.