Health Benefits of Sunbathing FAR Outweigh Risks, World Health Organization Says

April 13, 2018 at 7:01 pm

Sunbathing dramatically reduces the risk of several types of cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone diseases, type 1 diabetes, depression, and, in proper doses, can even reduce the risk of melanoma, a meta-analysis of sun-related-disease studies finds

A growing number of scientists are concerned that public campaigns to protect people from the sun are causing more harm than good. Lack of sun exposure has caused massively more disease than overexposure, say the authors of a meta-analysis weighing the pros and cons soaking in the sun.

Excessive sun exposure accounts for less than 0.1% of the total global disease burden, according to the World Health Organization. And the diseases sun exposure is associated with tend to be relatively benign. The only concerning disease associated with the sun is malignant melanoma, which occurs mainly in the elderly, who lack pigment from underexposure and then get burned when they are exposed. Only one thousandth of a percent of the global population gets melanoma each year.

A much larger annual disease burden of 3.3 billion disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) worldwide is caused by underexposure to the sun, the organization says. DALYs measure how much a person’s expectancy of healthy life is reduced by premature death or disability caused by disease.

This figure includes bone disease, autoimmune diseases and far more life-threatening cancers.

If that’s not enough to get you in your bathing suit and out in the sun, here are 7 more reasons:

1. Vitamin D. The best-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply. Most cases of vitamin D deficiency are due to lack of outdoor sun exposure. At least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body are now thought to be regulated by the active form of the vitamin.

Clothing, excess body fat, sunscreen, and the skin pigment melanin can make it harder to absorb Vitamin D.

A half-hour in the summer sun in a bathing suit can initiate the release of 50,000 IU vitamin D in white-skinned people and 8,000–10,000 IU in dark-skinned people, meaning dark skinned people may need to spend 5 times as long in the sun to get adequate vitamin D, especially at latitudes farther away from the equator.

“The primary physiologic function of vitamin D is to maintain serum calcium and phosphorous levels,” says Michael Holick, a medical professor and director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston University Medical Center.

2. Avoid Rickets. As humans migrated out of Africa to higher latitudes, they had less ultra violet radiation exposure and wore more clothing, the report says. By the 1600s, peoples in these regions covered their whole body, even in summertime.  By the late 1800s, approximately 90% of all children living in industrialized Europe and North America had rickets, a bone softening disease, which can cause bowed legs and seizures.

Even today, one in 5 British children and 70 percent of Mongolian children suffer from rickets.

3. Treat Tuberculosis. A  meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that high vitamin D levels reduce the risk of active tuberculosis by 32 percent.

As awareness of the sun’s power against rickets and TB spread in the late 1800s, attitudes toward sun exposure shifted radically. The suntan became a status symbol that signified health and wealth, as only the affluent could afford to vacation by the sea and play outdoor sports.

Phototherapy became a popular medical treatment TB, but rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, gout, chronic ulcers, and wounds.

4. Prevent Cancer . It wasn’t until the 1930s that the U.S. Public Health Service began issuing warnings about skin cancer. While skin cancer can result from too much sun exposure, other cancers can result from too little.

Living at higher latitudes increases the risk of dying from Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, prostate, and other deadly cancers.

Additionally continued sun exposure after melanoma is diagnosed is linked with increased survival rates, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and occupational exposure to sunlight actually reduced melanoma risk in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Many studies have shown that cancer-related death rates decline as one moves toward the equator.

“As you head from north to south, you may find perhaps two or three extra deaths [per hundred thousand people] from skin cancer,” says one of the studies authors. “At the same time, though, you’ll find thirty or forty fewer deaths for the other major cancers.”

Maintaining a serum vitamin D level of 55–60 ng/mL could cut rate of breast and other cancers in temperate regions by half, said Cedric F. Garland, a medical professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Garland calls vitamin D “the single most important action that could be taken by society to reduce the incidence of cancer in North America and Europe, beyond not smoking.”

5. Prevent Diabetes. A Finnish study published in The Lancet showed children who received 2,000 IU vitamin D per day from 1 year of age had an 80% decreased risk of developing type 1 diabetes later in life. Vitamin D also helps protect type 2 diabetes patients regulate their blood sugar.

6. Sleep Better. “When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night,” says the study’s lead author, Mark Nathaniel Mead, a nutritionist and integrative oncology consultant at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), he says.

“The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” says melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center. “For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness.”

7. Enhance Your Mood. Sunbathing helps us produce the happy hormone seratonin and has opiate-like effects on our brains.

So go soak up the sun! Just start in small doses and very gradually increase sun exposure day by day, so you don’t burn!