In the post-World War I era and throughout most of the 1900s, a suntan was a sign of health and prosperity. Only the more affluent could afford to vacation on warm, sandy beaches, or engage in outdoor recreation like golf and tennis.
When I was a child in New England in the 1960s, I remember seeing the commercial for Eastern Airlines to fly from Boston to Florida. I wanted to be “the man with the Florida tan.” And today, I am.
But the sunshine-phobics who took over the mainstream dermatology and sunscreen industries a quarter century ago think I’m crazy for going outside my Florida home without first slathering on multiple layers of sunscreen (which, by the way, contains toxic chemical ingredients).
These anti-sun worshippers would have us all believe that the sun is a carcinogenic, skin-burning ring of fire (with apologies to the late, great Johnny Cash). Especially the sun’s supposedly “deadly” ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Over the years, I’ve shared studies with you showing that this solar fearmongering is grossly inaccurate. And today, I have even more convincing evidence.
Two big studies show that sunlight exposure almost never causes premature death or disease. In fact, the researchers found that not getting enough sun is the real risk factor…
Sunshine enthusiasts have lower cancer rates
The first study, known as the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, involved more than 450,000 men and women, ages 50 to 71.1
Researchers administered surveys to AARP members asking them a series of diet and lifestyle questions, including their level of sun exposure. The researchers then followed up with the survey respondents for a period of nine years, tracking how many were diagnosed with cancer.
During the same time frame, researchers used high-tech ozone mapping data from NASA satellites to determine the level of daily UV ray exposure during each participant’s residence.
The researchers were no doubt astonished to find that more sun exposure actually reduces your risk
of common cancers.
In fact, study participants who got the most UV radiation (UVR) exposure experienced:
- 18 percent fewer diagnoses of Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- 17 percent less kidney cancer
- 14 percent less lung cancer
- 12 percent less bladder cancer
- 12 percent less colon cancer
- 9 percent less prostate cancer
Meanwhile, a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) goes even further…
More time in the sun equates to more years of your life
The report is titled “Health consequences of excessive solar UV radiation,” and it tries to cast the usual doom and gloom on sun exposure.2 But if you study the research more closely, it also notes that sun exposure dramatically reduces the risk of several types of cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases, bone diseases, depression, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
The report found that too much sun accounts for only one-tenth of one percent of all diseases worldwide. And most of these are benign. The only exception is malignant melanoma.
This skin cancer occurs mostly in older people who lack protective skin pigment. This lack of pigment is mainly genetic.
But it can also be caused by not getting enough natural sun exposure to maintain a healthy tan, and then getting burned when sun exposure eventually does occur.
What’s interesting about the WHO report is that it estimates that 3.3 billion disability-adjusted life years (DALY) worldwide are caused by lack of sunlight.
DALY estimates how much a person’s average life expectancy is reduced by death or disability caused by certain diseases.
Among these diseases are autoimmune disease, bone disease, and cancer. And all of these diseases have one thing in common—lack of sufficient vitamin D in the bloodstream.
Sunshine: your best disease preventative
According to reams of scientific evidence, the most clearly established benefit of sunlight is boosting natural production of vitamin D. Most cases of vitamin D deficiency are directly linked to lack of sun exposure.
Along with the diseases I just mentioned, low levels of vitamin D can also lead to deadly chronic conditions like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Plus, studies show that people with higher D levels who do get the one cancer attributed to sun exposure—melanoma—have much smaller, less dangerous, and more treatable cancers.
The major problem is that for people who live north of Atlanta or Los Angeles, the sun isn’t high enough in the sky to produce adequate UV rays in the winter. So from October to March, your body simply isn’t capable of making enough vitamin D from sunlight. And that can become a real issue…
Simple, low-cost ways to boost your vitamin D right now
Because vitamin D is fat soluble, you can store up to a three-month supply in your body’s fat reserves. But if you haven’t supplemented with D throughout the winter months, you run the risk of being dangerously deficient as spring finally approaches.
That’s why it’s especially important to ask your doctor to measure your vitamin D levels this month. Be sure to ask for the 25(OH)D test—a quick, simple blood test. Anything 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) and below is deficient. Levels of 55 to 60 ng/mL have been shown to massively cut your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. The ideal level is around 70 to 80 ng/mL.
And of course, make a point to go outside and soak up some sun as the temperatures heat up. But keep in mind that wearing too much clothing and slathering on sunscreen makes it virtually impossible for your skin to absorb the sunlight that activates vitamin D production in your body.
However, it’s important to make sure you take certain precautions in order to prevent the sunburn that can lead to melanoma…
I recommend you start with 15 minutes of sun exposure on your bare arms or legs (without sunscreen) the first day. Then add a few minutes each day until you’ve worked up to half an hour. After that, you can increase the time you spend outside until you’ve reached a comfortable amount of time that fits into your daily regimen, without getting a sunburn.
If you have the kind of skin pigmentation that just doesn’t tan, use protection such as a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves during the hottest parts of the day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). And everybody should wear UV-protective sunglasses to shield their eyes when they’re out in the sun.
Finally, to make sure you maintain adequate levels of this crucial vitamin in your bloodstream, I recommend also supplementing with 10,000 IU of vitamin D every day, rain or shine. You can find D in an easy-to-take liquid form, together with the potent marine carotenoid astaxanthin.
Centuries of chasing the sun
Historically, as human populations migrated to colder northern climates, they got less sunlight and ultraviolet light exposure. By the 1600s (during what was known as the Little Ice Age in Europe and North America), people wore clothing covering their entire bodies, even during summer.
As a result, by the 1800s, some reports show that up to 80 percent of children in Europe and North America suffered from vitamin D deficiency of the bones (more commonly known as rickets).3
Also in the 1800s, there was another D-related international pandemic: tuberculosis (TB).
Vitamin D has been found to substantially reduce the risk of TB. In fact, during the latter 1800s, “nature cures” were routinely prescribed for people with TB—which meant leaving dense, dirty, and dark urban areas and getting clean air, water, and plenty of sunshine. But no one understood the link between vitamin D and these nature cures.
Sun also became a popular and successful treatment for arthritis, diabetes, gout, ulcers, and wounds. In addition, doctors noticed that people living further from the equator (with less natural sun exposure), died more frequently from breast, colon, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and other cancers. They also had higher risks of multiple sclerosis and other neurologic conditions—although the real reason (lack of vitamin D) was neither understood nor accepted.
1“Prospective study of ultraviolet radiation exposure and risk of cancer in the U.S.” Int J Cancer. 2012 Sep 15; 131(6): E1015–E1023.
3“Theobald Palm and His Remarkable Observation: How the Sunshine Vitamin Came to Be Recognized.” Nutrients. 2012 Jan; 4(1): 42–51.