Vitamin D vs Skin Cancer: and the winner is…
A lot has been talked about when it comes to skin cancer and its cause. Ninety percent of non-melanoma skin cancer is caused by sun exposure. Oddly enough one way we generate a very important vitamin (vitamin D) is from sun exposure! What to do? Expose skin to sun and risk cancer or become housebound avoiding all light from the sun and risk vitamin d deficiency?
Fact: Vitamin D is very good for you.
Fact: Sun is not.
First understand that I think the body is genius in the way it can take sun applied to the skin and start a biochemical process that makes us into little Vitamin D machines. It is photosynthesis like the plants! Without sun the machine does not work.
Without Vitamin D we experience a myriad of negative consequences. Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones, good immunity and possibly in protecting us from diseases from fibromyalgia to multiple sclerosis, and cancers from prostate to colon. The NIH (National Institute of Health) has reviewed research on Vitamin D and found it to be very complicated. It is not just black and white (or in this case tan and white!). A lot of research is happening, just trying to figure out how much vitamin D we actually need for optimum health is an enormous undertaking (If you like data there is a good scientific review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Feb 2006). Believe it or not we are still not sure how much Vitamin D is the correct amount.
We can all agree that we need at least some Vitamin D and we have three ways to get it; sun, food and supplements. Start with food; not a great source unless you eat a lot of fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel and fish liver). Beef liver, cheese and egg yolks have small amounts, but think for the cholesterol! Milk and bread are fortified which is helpful but many Americans still seem to be lacking.
So, supplement or sun? The reality is that if you have light skin and don’t live in a submarine you get about 15 minutes of sun on your hands and face just from living every day. The human body maxes out its Vitamin D producing capacity in 5 minutes (sunny day, hands and face unprotected). Anything more is not helping Vitamin D but is helping skin cancer. Shut-ins and dark skinned people are another story. Rolling grandma out to the sun porch everyday is an option but supplements are more practical. With very dark skin more sun time is needed to penetrate the natural advantage in sun protective color but how much time depends (I know, I hate that answer, too).
Bottom line, sun causes cancer; supplements are available to supply vitamin D, so why risk it? Until we know exactly what we need for perfect Vitamin D health perhaps we should go for the sunscreen and a pill. How much? 200 IU a day, 400 IU for over 50’s and 600 IU for over 70’s.