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The Delicate Balance Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Melanoma Prevention

by | September 23, 2018

We all know we need vitamin D, and the sun is the best way to absorb it. But how do you prevent a vitamin D deficiency why also preventing melanoma?

Ask any group of people – ‘Who here has not been warned about the dangers of melanoma and skin cancers?’ and you may get a surprising hand or two being raised, but most everyone has been cautioned against melanoma and how to avoid it. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, these are the best ways to avoid skin cancer:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin for suspicious growths head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

The bottom line is to avoid the sun as much as possible if you want to prevent skin cancer. But what do we do when the sun provides us one of the most important vitamins that our body needs? How do we stop ourselves from developing a vitamin D deficiency?

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An amazing ability

One of the human body’s most amazing abilities is the ability to produce its own Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. In fact, all mammals have this ability, as do some forms of fungi and alfalfa. While food and supplemental sources of Vitamin D do exist, the sun is the most natural source and our bodies are designed to utilize it in order to make Vitamin D!

How we do it

Cholesterol that is present in our skin reacts with UVB radiation and creates a compound called cholecalciferol, a biologically inactive form of Vitamin D. Through a series of biochemical processes, the liver converts cholecalciferol to calcifediol and the kidneys convert calcifediol to calcitriol, the biologically active form of Vitamin D. From here, Vitamin D can travel to the various areas of the body that need it, which is almost every part.

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Why is Vitamin D important?

Vitamin D, a prohormone (not exactly a vitamin, per se) is known to be a major contributor to healthy calcium and phosphate concentrations as well as a promoter of healthy bones, both in growth and regrowth. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause rickets, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, and numerous hormonal deficiencies; and although not causal, numerous studies have linked Vitamin D deficiencies to hundreds of different conditions including heart disease, many cancers, autoimmune conditions, inflammation, and mental health disorders. In fact, studies have shown that low levels of Vitamin D are linked to the more severe forms of melanoma! Clinical trials are underway due to research surrounding the protective benefits of Vitamin D for melanoma survivors.

The hazardous sun, or is it?

While some health organizations say that no exposure to the sun is good, researchers have been able to show that in areas where UV radiation from the sun is higher, there are much lower rates of many different types of cancers, as well as a better prognosis when they are diagnosed. This list includes, but is not limited to, lymphoma, prostate, lung, colon, leukemia, bladder, pancreatic, and breast cancers. Researchers concluded in these studies that Vitamin D, or lack thereof, is a major contributor to a less severe prognosis.

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Some interesting information

Theoretically, one could argue that people who have a lot of sun exposure, sun worshippers, outdoor workers, and people who simply spend a lot of time outside, would have higher rates of skin cancer. On the contrary; a population-based control study in Sweden last year compared the occupations of 74,000+ people diagnosed with skin cancer with a control group of 500K+. The study concluded that people who have indoor occupations and thus, are not exposed to UV rays regularly, had a significantly increased risk of skin cancer than their outdoor-occupation counterparts.

A true conundrum

So if the sun can cause such a deadly form of skin cancer, how do we reconcile all of the other protective effects? The good news is that our body begins to metabolize Vitamin D almost immediately and can create a good amount within 20-25 minutes of unprotected sun exposure. This is usually less time than it takes for even the fairest of skin to get a sunburn. The timing will depend on the time of day (midday is best,) the tone of your skin (darker skin requires more time) how much skin is exposed (more skin, more metabolism of Vitamin D) as well as where you live (closer to the equator is more likely to create Vitamin D faster.) Further research has revealed that people who have intermittent sun exposure, as well as people who have exposure leading to sunburns, have much higher chances of developing skin cancer than people who spend time in the sun several times per week.

You can still supplement to prevent a vitamin D deficiency, and you probably should

Many humans suffer from chronic and intermittent inflammation. Inflammation is caused by various dietary practices coupled with a lack of exercise. Studies have shown that inflammation can be counterproductive to the positive effects of UV rays and Vitamin D levels, and can even interfere with our ability to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun. Due to sun avoidance and diet, the majority of the population is at least borderline on Vitamin D deficiency. Consuming shiitake mushrooms, fortified plant milks, tofu, orange juice, and breakfast cereals can certainly help. Adding a vegan Vitamin D3 supplement is also recommended. Although Vitamin D toxicity is extremely rare, as always, you should consult your medical care team before taking any supplements.

Now go get some sun!

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Comments

2 Responses to “The Delicate Balance Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Melanoma Prevention”

  1. Marc
    September 24th, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

    As a vegan, I thought that was a great article. However, too many people do not understand the truth about melanoma. Here are some
    facts you should be aware of:
    •Seventy-five percent of melanomas occur on areas of the body that are seldom or never exposed to sunlight.
    •In the U.S., as sun exposure has decreased by about 90% since 1935, melanoma incidence has increased by 3,000%!
    •As in the US, while sun exposure in Europe has profoundly decreased, there has been a spectacular increase in melanoma.
    •Men who work outdoors have about half the risk of melanoma as men who work indoors.
    •Increasing melanoma incidence significantly correlates with decreasing personal annual Sunlight exposure.
    •Outdoor workers do get numerous sunburns but still have dramatically lower risk of contracting melanoma.
    Here are more facts you should know about causes of melanoma:
    •Weekly meat consumption increases the risk of melanoma by 84%.
    •Daily fruit consumption reduces the risk of melanoma by nearly 50%.
    Please, stop blaming the sun for melanoma. Regular, non-burning sun exposure is extremely healthful.
    For more information: sunlightinstitute.org or read Dr. Marc Sorenson’s new book, Embrace the Sun, available on Amazon.

  2. Anonymous
    September 26th, 2018 @ 8:30 am

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book
    in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog.

    A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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