Thursday, February 19, 2009

From Sun Worshipers to Sun Phobes

What happened? One minute we are worshipping the sun, building solariums in our hospitals, gagging down cod liver oil, baking in the sun, and now in the 21st Century we have frightened ourselves out of the daylight. Why is that?

Well, unfortunately, over the past 20 years the relationship between sunlight and skin cancer has been blown out of proportion. AND as per our typical American tradition, we go to extremes when it comes to our health. So from Sun Worshipers to Sun Phobes we went. Wearing long sleeves, long pants, floppy hats, and slathering every inch of our bodies with sunscreen every time we go out in the sun. The cosmetic arena of the pharmaceutical industry helped us in our beliefs, too, as the once anti-sunburn cream turned into the new cancer prevention cream.
So let’s discuss sunburns. A sunburn is much different than a tan. The redness of a sunburn is caused from increased blood flow to the skin so that it can attend to cells that have been damaged by the sun. When damaged enough squamous and basal cells in the skin cannot repair themselves so they die off so they won’t replicate in a mutated state and cause cancers. Severely damaged melanocytes stay alive however. These cells replicate in a mutated way and present themselves later in life as cancer-melanoma. So the key here is not to not go into the sun; but, to go into the sun…just don’t burn.

Let’s look at the Skin Cancer facts (The UV Advantage 2003- Authors Holick and Jenkins)

Non-melanoma- caused by long term sun exposure

  • Fewer than ½ of 1% die
  • Claims 1200 lives annually

Melanoma-seen more often in people who do NOT receive regular sun exposure

  • Comprises 10% of all skin cancers
  • 85% of skin cancer deaths
  • Kills 7,000 annually

With those facts we need to be cautious about going into the sun and not burn. But, let’s compare the sun risk with diseases that can be prevented by regular sun exposure:

  • Colon, Breast Cancers 20-65% mortality rate
  • Kills 138,000 annually.
  • Osteoporosis affects 25 million Americans.

And every year 1.5 million people with osteoporosis suffer broken bones which can be fatal when the person is elderly.

(Yes, sun exposure reduces the risk of these cancers and osteoporosis)
The risk of sun exposure pales in comparison to the sun’s benefits. Sun exposure can not only result in fewer cases of internal cancers (breast, ovaries, colon, prostate, stomach to name a few) but can reduce fractures from osteoporosis, reduce rates of depression associated with seasonal affective disorder as well.

Look at the maps (above this post). Look where most of the Colon and Breast Cancers are located (red states)…in states with less sun exposure…states away from the equator.

With all the advances we have made in medicine over the past 20 years it is disturbing to know that Vitamin D deficiency and its’ disease states are once again on the rise in the United States. Yes, rickets (weakening of bone in children) and osteomalacia (vague aches, pains and weakening of bones in adults) are back on the rise.

What about fibromyalgia? Let’s shed some light on Fibromyalgia. Is it Fibromyalgia or is it really Osteomalacia? Fibromyalgia was basically unknown until about 15-20 years ago. Fibromyalgia symptoms are muscle pain and weakness. The condition is usually diagnosed when providers can’t find anything else to explain the vague muscle and bone aches. There is no specific test to confirm a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Guess what folks? Check your Vitamin D levels. Dr. Holick reported that between 40-60% of people who came to his clinic with fibromyalgia actually had Osteomalacia due to Vitamin D deficiency. There’s a lot to be learned from this. We all should get about 10-15 minutes of raw exposure to the sun two to three times per week. The key is not to burn. In cities north of Atlanta from November to February the sun’s rays are not strong enough to give us Vitamin D. Therefore, it is important for us to get adequate supplements during these months. I recommend the CardioDaily multivitamin as it is the only multivitamin I know that has 2000 IU of Vitamin D in it.

Most people ask what foods can we get Vitamin D from. An 8 ounce glass of Vitamin D fortified milk is suppose to contain 100 iu of Vitamin D. However, in studies most so-called Vitamin D fortified milks contained less than 20% the amount listed on the label. Although, milk, eggs, and salmon contain Vitamin D, they are in amounts too small to maintain adequate levels for our bodies. So in the winter months here in Kansas City (or any city north of Atlanta for that matter), make sure you take your CardioDaily. If you haven’t had your Vitamin D level checked you might want to have this done…you just might be surprised.

Questions you might have:
Do I advocate Tanning? Not true. I would advocate common sense when it comes to being in the sun.
Do I lie out in the sun for hours w/o protection? Not True.
Do I go out in strong sunshine w/o sunscreen on and does my skin get tanned? Yes. Why? I recognize my body needs a certain amount of sun exposure to be healthy.
Do I put sunscreen on after a certain amount of time? Yes. Why? I understand there are risks as well as benefits with being in the sun

Becky K. Captain, RN, MSN, CLS, BC, FNP-C
Nurse Practitioner