The above headline may look like it comes from some “out there” alternative source, but it was in fact lifted right out of the mainstream Journal of Internal Medicine. Swedish researchers drew this conclusion after analyzing data accumulated from following 30,000 women over a 20-year period. All of the women presumably heard the warnings to stay out of the sun to avoid contracting skin cancer, but, as is usual, some followed the advice while others ignored it. In this case it turns out that the ones who ignored the advice were better off.
Most interesting is the finding that avoiding sun exposure increased risk of developing such seemingly unrelated conditions as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lung disease. Nonsmokers who avoided the sun had the same life expectancy as smokers who soaked up the most rays. Sun exposure increases life expectancy by 0.6 – 2.1 years, with those who reported the most exposure to the sun receiving the greatest benefit.
It turned out to be true that women with the highest exposure got more skin cancer than the prudent advice-followers. However, the types of skin cancer caused by the sun, basal cell and squamous cell, are relatively benign, if such a word can be used when describing cancer. They’re not typically life-threatening unless left to fester for many years. Interestingly, women who contracted the dangerous skin cancer melanoma did better among the group that received the most sun exposure. There is a lot of evidence supporting the claim that melanoma is not caused by sun exposure, and this study actually shows that sun exposure may help mitigate its effects.
This might be funny if it weren’t so sad. Medical science tends to look with a one-sided point of view. The sun, the life-giving sun, object of worship, subject of poetry, beloved by so many, was demonized without ever considering that there may be consequences. The glorious sun was reduced to a cancer-promoting ball of heat and light not to be encountered without first slathering on sun-block lotions. This advice held even when it became apparent that the lotions themselves cause cancer, and small children were developing rickets because their sun-blocked skin was unable to initiate the production of vitamin D. The sun prohibition is on a par with cardiologists telling patients not to eat vegetables because they interfere with blood-thinning medications.
It’s actually been clear for some time that there’s no reason to avoid the sun. The danger is not from the sun, but from getting sunburn. Most squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers can be traced back to severe sunburns, often received in childhood. The prudent advice is to avoid sunburn, not sun exposure. I have always made it a point to try to receive as much sun as possible early in the spring, just as our outdoor-living ancestorsdid. In that way, I lay down a protective tan that allows me to get out in the sun even in mid-summer. I welcome the sun; I revel in its rays. I fully believe it’s safe as long as you build up exposure gradually, avoid burning, and get a protective tan. Now my “radical” point of view may become the new mainstream advice.
In all, this study supports the idea that we collectively suffer from deprivation to the great outdoors. The most basic concept in naturopathy is that fresh air; sunshine, eating whole natural foods and living close to the earth are fundamental to health.