By Dr Janey
Few subjects on health are as riddled with myths and misconceptions as the question of the sun and its presumed role in contributing to skin cancer.
Let’s take a look at this intriguing subject more closely……
The sun has been demonised in recent decades as being the source of escalating skin cancers resulting in most people today running for cover from the sun in their efforts to avoid this most common of cancers that has seen a rise in incidence of more than 300% since 1992.
However, if we stop to scrutinise the facts for a moment we are left with some surprising twists in the beliefs and perceptions surrounding the sun and its role in skin cancer (and other cancers).
It is worth reminding ourselves that without the sun – the only true source of energy for our planet throughout all of history – life as we know it, would simply not exist. We also need to remain cognisant of the fact that until recent decades, skin cancer was a rare disease. How then do we explain that the sun, provider of life for millennia, should suddenly become so harmful in recent times causing unprecedented loss of life through various forms of skin cancer?
Let me point out that the answer to this all important question is NOT the common misconception of a thinning ozone layer permitting excess UV light penetration. This point is demonstrated best by the vast difference in UV radiation experienced by individuals living in different geographical locations. Those living at high altitudes are exposed to considerably more UV radiation than their counterparts at low altitudes. The same can be said for those living at the equator whom are naturally exposed to substantially more UV light than those living in polar regions. And yet in both instances it is those populations exposed to the most UV radiation (ie at the equator and high altitudes) that paradoxically enjoy a much lower incidence of skin cancers, and in fact all cancers!
Could there be more to the sun and its role with respect to skin cancers than that which we’ve been sold by the media and those industries with vested interests in propagating the pervasive fear of the sun as we know it today?
It is interesting to know that the practice of heliotherapy (controlled sunlight therapy) was successfully embraced in Europe in the late 19th to mid 20th century for healing diseases that ranged from tuberculosis, to small pox, lupus and rickets. This would however be replaced in the 1930’s following the discovery of Penicillin and the advent of the pharmaceutical age.
However the benefits of sunshine remain unchanged in modern times when exposure to sun is regular and enjoyed safely. Some of the benefits to be enjoyed through sunshine are the following:
- Stimulation of our immune system
- Production of mood enhancing hormones such as solitrol and serotonin (the reason for the syndrome, SAD (Seasonal affected depression) experienced in countries with low sunlight levels)
- Germicidal wavelength controls germs, moulds, mites etc
- Enhances haemoglobin-oxygen binding crucial for oxygen transport and delivery around the body
- Reduces raised blood pressure, reduces cholesterol & reduces high blood glucose
- Responsible for Vit D3 synthesis that is in turn crucial in promoting the following:
- Building of strong bones and teeth (Ca + P uptake)
- Prevention of cardiovascular disease – hypertension, heart disease, stroke
- Prevention of auto-immune diseases – eg IBD, MS etc
- Regulation of >3000 genes – promoting DNA repair so crucial in avoiding a myriad of diseases
- Protection against a range of chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, eczema, insomnia, depression, migraines
These benefits are significant and not to be overlooked, particularly when we consider how many of the above conditions are pervasive in modern times.
But how about the sun’s effect on cancer, a disease that is rapidly growing to epidemic proportions when we consider that the modern-day risk of being diagnosed with cancer is approaching 1 in 2?
Well incredibly the sun protects us against 16x different types of cancer! Some of these most common of cancers include breast, colon, endometrial, oesophageal, ovarian, bladder, gallbladder, gastric, pancreatic, prostate, rectal, and renal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I bet your doctor didn’t tell you that?
How does the sun do this? Well, the protective effect of Vit D works in several ways:
- It promotes destruction of mutated cells
- Causes cells to become differentiated (cancer cells frequently lack differentiation)
- Reduces spreading and replication of cancer cells
- Reduces formation of new blood vessels (which would otherwise encourage the transition of benign tumours into malignant ones)
Sadly however, 85% of people are Vit D deficient in modern times due to the pervasive misinformation about sunlight and its alleged harmful effects. In fact a study conducted by Dr William Grant Ph.D (recognised Vit D expert) concluded that approximately 30% of cancer deaths (approx 2 million worldwide) could be prevented with higher Vit D levels!
In fact to elaborate on breast cancer, the most common of cancers in women, over 60 studies reviewed and published in the ‘American Journal of Public Health’ have demonstrated that when Vit D deficiencies are corrected, the risk of breast cancer is reduced by 50%, while for those women who already have breast cancer, their survival rates are doubled when Vit D deficiencies are addressed.
So I’ll just pop my Vit D in a pill? Not so quick! Synthetic versions of Vit D are non-sulphated and therefore poorly absorbed, and of additional concern is that this quick-fix option has been linked to increased risk of arteriosclerosis and heart attack. A perfect reminder that nothing does it better than nature herself!
However the problem with our approach to sunshine sadly doesn’t end there.
Several studies have shown that most sun creams shield us from the beneficial UVB rays which promote Vit D synthesis so crucial in providing us with the many health benefits as listed above, while over 60% of sunscreens are not protecting us from the harmful UVA rays which are considered the most dangerous in promoting skin damage, ageing and skin cancers.
And now to rub the proverbial salt in the wound, most common sunscreens that people are applying copiously to their skin and to their children’s skin every day through the summer months contain toxic chemicals that can actually cause skin cancer, while also entering the blood stream leading to endocrine disruption!
And now to the question of skin cancer itself; just what role is the sun playing in this all-too-common of diseases?
Let’s look at a brief outline of the 3x most commonly witnessed of skin cancers:
- Basal cell carcinomas (BCC), the most common of skin cancers are benign because they rarely spread (metastasise) beyond the original site. Reports suggest that approx 3 million cases are diagnosed annually.
- Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are less common but represent 90% of skin tumours on the head and neck arising as result of abnormal replication of cells of the epidermis. They are considered malignant and can result in death if left to grow. Reports indicate that approximately 700,000 cases are diagnosed each year with 2,500 deaths resulting.
- Melanomas are the least common, but the most dangerous of skin cancers responsible for approx 10,000 deaths in the US every year. These tumours frequently resemble moles either black or brown in colour, although they can occasionally be blue, red, pink, white or skin coloured. Fortunately, if detected early they are curable.
While both basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas ARE linked to excessive UV exposure, the sun has been unfairly blamed as a scapegoat as several studies now confirm that appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent skin cancer through the mechanisms of action described earlier.
In short, exposure to the sun in relation to the above-mentioned non-melanoma skin cancers is only part of the equation. We crucially also need to bear in mind the fact that the inner terrain of our body also plays a significant role in predisposing the skin to adverse changes.
While this represents a substantial topic in its own right, by regularly cleansing the body of toxins and impurities, avoiding the use of harmful chemicals on the skin (home and body care products as well as toxic sun care products), minimising your exposure to processed food while nourishing your body (and skin) from the inside with a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, nuts and seeds and healthy fats, we go a long way to protect ourselves from the harm that excess UV light might otherwise trigger.
And what of melanomas and sunshine? Contrary to popular opinion, this most dangerous of skin cancers is NOT caused by normal exposure to the sun! Dr Bernard Ackerman (winner of the American Academy of Dermatology’s prestigious Master Award) claims there is no proof that normal sun exposure causes melanoma in spite of claims by medical mainstream and the multimillion dollar sunscreen industry. He also goes onto say that there is no evidence to support the belief that sunscreen prevents melanoma.
Furthermore, as published in The Lancet, “outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.” In addition, melanomas are most commonly diagnosed on regions of the body that are not exposed to the sun at all.
Interestingly a study published in the journal, ‘Medical Hypotheses’ suggests that indoor workers have increased rates of melanoma because they are deprived of the protective effects of UVB rays of sunlight that cannot pass through glass windows and hence are deficient in Vit D, while simultaneously being exposed to the harmful effects of UVA that are being filtered through windows.
Further evidence suggesting the protective effective of normal sunshine exposure with respect to melanomas is witnessed in the incidence of melanomas being 10x higher in the sun-deprived regions of the Orkney islands north of Scotland as opposed to those in the sun-drenched Mediterranean islands.
In summary, the sun has been unfairly used as a scapegoat with respect to skin cancer and avoiding the sun is certainly not the answer in attaining vibrant health! The truth is that the sun is your friend! It protects you from a wide range of ailments including various cancers, and provided we follow simple protocols to enjoy it regularly and in safe amounts, the benefits you will enjoy will significantly outweigh any negatives!