Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sunshine - It's Good For You

Study finds boost in vitamin D could outweigh skin cancer risks in certain populations
people in sunshine
more sunshine might be good for you
photo by Geoffrey Woodley, stock.xchng
A new study by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and colleagues in Norway suggests that the benefits of moderately increased exposure to sunlight - namely the production of vitamin D, which protects against the lethal effects of many forms of cancer and other diseases - may outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer in populations deficient in vitamin D.

"We know that solar radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer," said communicating author Richard Setlow, but solar radiation is also a major, if not the main, source of vitamin D in humans. In the presence of sunlight, the body converts certain precursor chemicals to active vitamin D.

"Since vitamin D has been shown to play a protective role in a number of internal cancers and possibly a range of other diseases, it is important to study the relative risks to determine whether advice to avoid sun exposure may be causing more harm than good in some populations." The concern, he says, is particularly great in populations from northern latitudes.

"There is a clear north-south gradient in vitamin D production," Setlow says, "with people in the northern latitudes producing significantly less than people nearer the equator."

So, how can people get the benefits of vitamin D without running the risk of deadly skin cancer?

"As far as skin cancer goes, we need to be most worried about melanoma, a serious disease with significant mortality," Setlow says. Melanoma is triggered by UVA (the long UV wavelengths) and visible light. Vitamin-D production in the body, on the other hand, is triggered by UVB (the short UV wavelengths at the earth's surface). "So perhaps we should redesign sunscreens so they don't screen out as much UVB while still protecting us from the melanoma-inducing UVA and visible light."

read the full article from Brookhaven National Laboratory, "More sun exposure may be good for some people", Jan 7, 2008
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