Sun exposure can boost our health, mood and vitamin D levels, and believe it or not, can also protect us from cancer
By Cathi Stack, ND
Living in the northern parts of the country can be a bit challenging when the long winters lead into a chilly, dreary spring. It is no wonder that our vitamin D levels are exceptionally low and our cancer rates are exceedingly high.
Warm, sunny days are here for most of the country, and many of us will want to spend every possible minute outside — a great boost for our vitamin D levels. However, many of us fearing skin cancer will either avoid the sun or slather on sunscreen. But before you head for the shade or the SPF, let me dispel some myths for you.
Research continues to roll in on how vitamin D3 levels protect us against at least 22 different types of cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer. Blood levels should be between 55 and 100ng/ml, so supplementation is often necessary to achieve this level. However, if we are already low, 2,000 iu daily will not raise it — we need more.
Sun exposure is Mother Nature’s natural resource for vitamin D, but to our detriment we have become very good at hiding from it because we have been bombarded with scare tactics leading us to believe sunshine is unhealthy, and even causes cancer — but it’s not true. In fact, lack of sunshine has been linked to depression, bone loss, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis and more. Being out on a sunny day can actually lift your spirits, and your body needs sunlight the same way it needs essential nutrients to optimize health.
More importantly, many of us believe exposing our skin to sunshine will lead to skin cancer. But since we have been using sunscreen and hiding from the sun, the incidence of skin cancer has dramatically increased! Melanoma (the deadly skin cancer) rates have risen by 1,800 percent since our grandparents’ generation. And most individuals I know who have been diagnosed with melanoma have never been sun worshipers or spent a large amount of their lives outdoors. The truth is, those working outdoors actually have the lowest risk of this deadly form of skin cancer.
A cumulative overview of all the published research was reported in the “International Journal of Cancer,” revealing that people with “heavy occupational exposure” to the sun have a significantly lower risk of melanoma. How is this possible? Well, there are actually three types of skin cancer. Basil cell and squamous cell carcinomas are more commonly seen with frequent sun exposure over many years, but these are rarely fatal with early detection. While the sun is a contributing factor, the internal environment is what makes us either likely or unlikely to be a candidate for cancer. The last type is melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. Now, if melanoma rates were associated with sun exposure, then we would see higher rates in sunny climates, right? Well, we don’t. It’s actually the opposite.
SELECT THE RIGHT SUNSCREEN
When heading out for a day in the sun, our first step is often to reach for a brand-name SPF sunscreen bottle — the higher, the better. While we do need to protect our sun-deprived skin from burning, especially traveling to places like the Caribbean during the winter months, we need to be very careful with the types of sunscreen we choose to apply, as many well-known brands are full of toxic ingredients actually proven to be cancer-causing. Yes, cancer-CAUSING.
Three of the most toxic ingredients found in your name-brand sunscreens are Octinoxate (Octyl Methoxycinnamate) and Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3). These have been proven to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) especially when exposed to heat — in other words, the sun!
Additionally, since our skin is the largest organ of our body, it will absorb these chemicals easily. For those who tend to burn easily, there are many safe sunscreens that are very effective, and actually make your skin look and feel great. ALBA is one of my favorite brands, and is tolerated very well by infants and children, and there are many other natural sunscreen options available at local grocery and drug stores. Just remember to check the ingredients on the label.
My advice is to make sure daily sun exposure in small to moderate quantities is part of your routine this summer. It can actually improve your health and mood — as well as your vitamin D levels. Enjoy this time of the year and don’t hide from the sun — it is one of my favorite supplements.
ABOUT CATHI STACK
Catherine (Cathi) Stack is owner, facilitator and Doctor of Naturopathy at Journey II Health LLC, established in 2007 in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Along with her naturopathic practice at Journey II Health, Stack continues to work at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital as a Certified Nurse Midwife. She loves sharing her knowledge with her patients, co-workers, friends and readers. She currently writes for a variety of publications, which include her Sunday column in the Niagara Gazette. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her Web site, www.journeyiihealth.com.