News announcer: ‘We interrupt the series of blogs on ‘what causes heart disease’ to bring you (slightly delayed), breaking news from Sweden… Sunbathing is good for you. Shock horror etc.’
Someone sent me this news story today, and I thought I should share it with you. For many, many, years I have been telling people that lying in the sun, getting a nice tan, is one of the healthiest things you can do. Despite the howls of anguish from all dermatologists telling us that one photon of sunlight is one photon too many. ‘You will cause people to die from skin cancer.’ Ho hum:
Why do sunbathers live longer than those who avoid the sun?
New research looks into the paradox that women who sunbathe are likely to live longer than those who avoid the sun, even though sunbathers are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
An analysis of information on 29,518 Swedish women who were followed for 20 years revealed that longer life expectancy among women with active sun exposure habits was related to a decrease in heart disease and noncancer/non-heart disease deaths, causing the relative contribution of death due to cancer to increase.
Whether the positive effect of sun exposure demonstrated in this observational study is mediated by vitamin D, another mechanism related to UV radiation, or by unmeasured bias cannot be determined. Therefore, additional research is warranted.
“We found smokers in the highest sun exposure group were at a similar risk as non-smokers avoiding sun exposure, indicating avoidance of sun exposure to be a risk factor of the same magnitude as smoking,” said Dr. Pelle Lindqvist, lead author of the Journal of Internal Medicine study. “Guidelines being too restrictive regarding sun exposure may do more harm than good for health.”1
There is a point here I think I should repeat… avoiding the sun is as risky for your overall health and life expectancy, as smoking. Which is pretty damned amazing? It has been estimated that smoking reduces life expectancy by six, on average. Thus, if you sunbathe regularly, it seems you can expect to live six years longer.
If I may indulge myself by quoting from my book ‘Doctoring Data’ on this very topic:
‘How about frightening people to stay out of the sun, or slap on factor 50 cream at the first suspicion that a deadly photon may sneak through 10 layers of protective clothing. Not necessarily a good idea, because without vitamin D synthesis in the skin, from exposure to the sun, there is significant danger that we can become vitamin D deficient, which can lead to all sort of other problems.
Here are just two stand-out facts from a major study in the Annals of Epidemiology entitled ‘Vitamin D for Cancer prevention.’
- Women with higher solar UVB exposure had only half the incidence of breast cancer as those with lower solar exposure
- Men with higher residential solar exposure had only half the incidence rate of fatal prostate cancer
To put that in simple English. If you spend longer in the sun, you may be far less likely to die of breast and prostate cancer. But what about the increased risk of dying of skin cancer! I have you cry. Well, what of it. Around 2,000 people a year die of malignant melanoma in the UK each year. It increased sun exposure were to double this figure we would have 2000 more cases.
On the other hand, breast cancer kills around 20,00 a year, as does prostate cancer. If we managed to halve the rate of breast and prostate cancer, we would reduce cancer deaths by 20,000 a year. Which is ten times as great as any potential increase in deaths from malignant melanoma.’
To what I wrote in Doctoring Data, I would further add that sun exposure is the best known way of increasing NO synthesis throughout the body. This protects the endothelium and, as you would expect, lowers blood pressure (the natural way). So, you are far less likely to die from CVD.
What this study highlights, once again (as with all advice on diet), what we are told to do by mainstream medical research, turns out to be actively damaging to health. Will advice on sun exposure now change? There is not the slightest, tiniest, possibility of this happening. Evidence has no impact on the pronouncements of the medical profession (at least not over the average human lifespan).
The only possible change I can see is that, whilst we will continue be hectored to stay out of the sun, at all possible costs, we will be advised to take vitamin D supplementation to make up for lack of sun exposure (even though there is little or no evidence that it actually does any good).
My advice is, and has always been. Sunshine is good for you. I have been saying this for twenty years. Ten years ago, whilst writing for Pulse Magazine in the UK I wrote an article called ‘Sunshine is good for you.’ I finished with the following:
I shall leave you to ponder the results of a study looking at people diagnosed with malignant melanomas, and then followed for five years.
‘Results: Sunburn, high intermittent sun exposure, skin awareness histories and solar elastosis were statistically significantly inversely associated with death from melanoma’
‘Conclusion: Sun exposure is associated with increased survival from melanoma.’ 2
Did I say that sunshine is good for you? It even prevents malignant melanoma.
The full study is: Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: a competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort, P. G. Lindqvist, E. Epstein, K. Nielsen, M. Landin-Olsson, C. Ingvar and H. Olsson, Journal of Internal Medicine, doi: 10.1111/joim.12496, published online 16 March 2016.
2: Berwick M et al: Sun exposure and mortality from melanoma. J Natl Cancer Inst: 2005 Feb 2, 973(3):195-9