We’re all aware of the repeated advice “Don’t go in the sun, you’ll increase your risk of sunburn and skin cancer,” and by and large we believe this is true. Cancer organizations link UV exposure to various types of skin cancer with Melanoma linked particularly to intermittent sun exposure, however there are a few anomalies published highlighting that it is not as straightforward as we think.A study published in June 2014 by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden1, showed that women who avoided sunbathing in summer were twice as likely to die as those who sun bathe every day. So avoiding the sun at all costs by putting on sunscreen is doing more harm than good! Let’s delve deeper…
Another study in Medical Hypotheses2 shows indoor workers having higher rates of melanoma than outdoor workers. These workers get three to nine times LESS solar UV exposure than outdoor workers get, yet only indoor workers have increasing rates of melanoma — and the rates have been increasing since before 1940. Why so? Well, this can be explained by looking at the types of UV radiation, the vitamin-D-producing UVB rays and the skin-damaging UVA light. Both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, although UVB does so far more rapidly. UVA, however, penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB, and may be a much more important factor in photoaging, wrinkles and skin cancers. So, say you’re sitting next to a window indoors, the protective elements of UV-B rays are blocked by glass, allowing only the damaging UV-A rays to get through. This leads to a lack of exposure to vitamin D forming UV-B radiation which increases the risk of melanoma.
Looking at the geographical incidence, Greeks who inhabit Greece have one of the lowest rates of melanoma in the world, whereby there is high sun exposure, then when they up sticks to move to Australia, they start to contract Melanoma, how is that? With this study, it points towards the adoption of a western diet which is low in protective fatty acids, anti-oxidants and minerals3.and high in bad fats and sugars.
Additional studies4,5 supporting the dietary connection show that maintaining a high carotenoid intake from carrots, bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables can provide protection by quenching the free radicals formed in the skin from sun exposure, thereby reducing skin cancer risk. Managing and protecting against lipid oxidation6,7 (or peroxidation) is important as this can lead to increase of skin cancer. Optimizing your fat soluble vitamin intake (vitamins A, D, E) together with balancing omega fatty acids will protect in this regard.
Moving to other phyto-nutrients: reservatrol, proanthocyanidins and polyphenols have shown to be effective in inhibiting skin cancer induced by UV. These nutrients are found in red grapes, rosemary, oregano, thyme and garlic, typical nutrients you would find in a Mediterranean diet, salad nicoise anyone?
What about sunscreens then, do we need them and which type of screen is safe? Dr. Plourde, a US based research scientist emphasized in her book, Suncreens – Biohazard: Treat as hazardous waste, that melanomas and other skin cancers increased significantly with the ubiquitous use of sunscreen over a 30-year period. This does show that sunscreens do not prevent the disease. She indicated that many sunscreens contain chemicals that are known carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals, which include substances of homosalate, Avobenzone and Octocrylene to name but a few. Derivatives of retinol and retinyl palmitate should also be excluded. If we look at natural compounds, zinc oxide and titanium oxide have been tested for their safety and sun protective properties.
So what’s the take home from this summary of research studies.
- Go in the sun and expose as much of your skin as you can – best time around midday for 10-30 minutes depending on your skin type and latitude. For lighter skin types who are living in lower latitudes this can be just 5-10 minutes only. You skin is the best source of Vitamin D. After 10-30 minutes, cover up as we don’t wish to burn.
- If you are using a sunscreen try to use titanium or zinc oxide based formulas, which are safe to use on the skin or you can try natural formulations like the one found on wellnessmama or formulations pre-made like badger sunscreens.
- Eat a good diet, rich in dark leafy greens, with yellow and red colored vegetables, with additional herbs and spices, unrefined coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter and saturated fats and meats from grass-fed animals, and low in sugar. Avoid trans-fats and processed vegetable oils. Additional supplementation of Cod Liver Oil for providing a good source of omega 3’s with the fat-soluble vitamins wouldn’t go amiss.
Our ancestors lived in the sun daily, benefiting from its life-giving properties. However we in our industrialized age shun the sun, and are told to protect ourselves from it. The truth is we need a healthy exposure to this wonderful natural resource and not least for vitamin D producing properties, but also for healthy circadian rhythms and hormonal regulation. If the incidence of melanomas changes as a result, all the better. It would come as no surprise to our Neanderthal cousins.
Miles Price, listed on our FACT Practitioner Directory, is a Clinical Nutritionist and Functional Medicine practitioner. He serves as director of Nutritional Cancer Therapy at Life Clinic in Hong Kong, specializing in the Dr. W.D. Kelley enzyme protocol. He also has an excellent website, Nutrition Upgrade, and provides Skype and email support to cancer patients in the Asia/Pacific Rim region, including Australia and New Zealand. See Practitioner Directory for contact info.