The Electric Commentary

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Get Some Sun!

You know how health authorities kept telling us that any amount of sunlight is bad for us? Well...

For decades, vitamin D has been the Rodney Dangerfield of the supplement world. It's the vitamin most Canadians never give a second thought to because it was assumed the only thing it did was prevent childhood rickets, a debilitating bone disease. But the days of no respect could be numbered. If vitamin D deficiency becomes accepted as the major cause of cancer and other serious illnesses, it will ignite the medical equivalent of a five-alarm blaze on the Canadian health front.

For many reasons, Canadians are among the people most at risk of not having enough vitamin D. This is due to a quirk of geography, to modern lifestyles and to the country's health authorities, who have unwittingly, if with the best of intentions, played a role in creating the vitamin deficiency.

Authorities are implicated because the main way humans achieve healthy levels of vitamin D isn't through diet but through sun exposure. People make vitamin D whenever naked skin is exposed to bright sunshine. By an unfortunate coincidence, the strong sunshine able to produce vitamin D is the same ultraviolet B light that can also causes sunburns and, eventually, skin cancer.

Only brief full-body exposures to bright summer sunshine — of 10 or 15 minutes a day — are needed to make high amounts of the vitamin. But most authorities, including Health Canada, have urged a total avoidance of strong sunlight or, alternatively, heavy use of sunscreen. Both recommendations will block almost all vitamin D synthesis.

Those studying the vitamin say the hide-from-sunlight advice has amounted to the health equivalent of a foolish poker trade. Anyone practising sun avoidance has traded the benefit of a reduced risk of skin cancer — which is easy to detect and treat and seldom fatal — for an increased risk of the scary, high-body-count cancers, such as breast, prostate and colon, that appear linked to vitamin D shortages.


I think I'll have lunch outside today.

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