Do We Get Any Health Benefits From the Sun’s Rays?

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

If you ask a healthcare professional about sun exposure, they’ll more likely than not warn you of the risks: too much exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer. According to the most recent data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with melanomas each year and close to 10,000 people die each year from melanomas of the skin.

While the threat of skin cancer is real, preliminary studies from the QIMR Berghoffer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane found that basking in sunlight for a little longer can reduce your risk of developing certain forms of cancers. Specifically, you could reduce your risk of certain cancers — ovarian, oesophageal, and pancreatic cancers — by up to 50 percent.

According to Professor Rachel Neale, there is a strong correlation between living in areas with higher UV ray levels and a decreased chance of pancreatic cancer — a 30 to 40 percent decrease, no less. Her previous research has also found that increase UV exposure is correlated with a 30 percent reduction in ovarian cancer in women and a 40 percent reduction in oesophageal cancer.

“We certainly are not hand on heart saying this is definitely true, in these types of epidemiological studies we are always very cautious about saying something is casual, but we do see an association between UV exposure and some cancers,” she added to Mail Online. “We have tried to adjust for other factors that might influence their risk of cancer and the association remained.”

That said, given her preliminary findings, Professor Neale recommends getting enough sun exposure and, in turn, a healthy amount of vitamin D.

“Even if it’s only for 2-3 minutes each day, it will be enough to get that source of vitamin D,” advised Professor Neal to the Mail Online. “Exposing more skin in a short period of time is better than less skin in the long run. Go outside and lift your shirt or pants up — show your tummy and legs.”

Those at risk of a vitamin D deficiency are dark-skinned individuals, obese people, the elderly, individuals who are indoors due to work, osteoporosis patients, and those who cover up for cultural or religious reasons. According to the Cancer Council, individuals should spend half an hour a day during the winter to get their adequate share of vitamin D.

Other health risks associated with a vitamin D deficiency include: severe asthma in children, cognitive impairment in adults, and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. What’s more, vitamin D is believed to play a crucial part in treating a wide array of health conditions including, but not limited to: type 1 and type 2 diabetes, glucose intolerance, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis.

Professor Neal points out that her findings are too preliminary to recommend taking vitamin D supplements and reveals that she is coordinating a D-Health trial to see if there is a benefit associated with taking a vitamin D supplement. In her upcoming study, two groups of participants will take a pill — either a placebo or a vitamin D tablet — for five years. Then, Neal and her colleagues will observe what health conditions their subject is diagnosed with.

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