I was not fully aware of the sun's energy until I was 24 years old. That was the year I shaved my hair and I gave myself to the baldness level Michael Jordan. You do not realize how much sun your hair keeps outside your scalp until you are bald. It gave me an appreciation of what ants feel when they see a child with a magnifying glass.
A few years after shaving my head, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup. She warned me: "You should not leave the house without sunscreen, even if you go in your car, you will receive radiation." Then she made a sound in case I had missed her subtle use of the word "radiation". I listened to his advice, and wore a hat and sunscreen smeared on my arms every day.
For a while.
Then I stopped.
I stopped when I started reading about the benefits of vitamin D. I became interested in my health at my 32 years, which, apparently, many people do. My link to all things health until then was Psychology Today, which is a magazine that I strongly recommend. It was from Psychology Today that I learned that vitamins are something that I must put into my body intentionally. Vitamin D is an important one, and the most effective way to obtain it, I learned, was from the sun.
So, now I only use sunscreen when I'm away for long periods of time. Have I made the right decision? Is this healthy? Am I getting enough vitamin D?
Or do I run the risk of exploding while I'm heading to my car?
It's not you, sun, it's me
Humans evolved to adapt to their environment, and they did it under the sun. As a result, our bodies grew acclimatized to being outside. So, how is it that some people have skin cancer and some are deficient in vitamin D?
Penn State anthropology professor Nina Jablonski says it's because humans are globally mobile, and the adaptation mentioned above was specific to our true original environments. The more we move from our ancestral lands, the greater the risk we have of losing the adaptations that once gave us an evolutionary advantage.
Nearly two million years ago melanin developed in humans to regulate the body's reaction to ultraviolet rays. The pigment allowed enough ultraviolet radiation in the body to produce vitamin D, and humans became dependent on solar energy. Melanin also protects the skin against intense UV radiation. When humans migrated from the equator to places like England and Russia, they lost pigmentation.
Enter the wheel, the gasoline engine and the jet plane. Now humans of different pigmentations live and vacation around the world.They also live mostly in cities, where their exposure to the sun is limited, and their ability to produce vitamin D is reduced. Jablonski's research points out that health problems occur when people do not get enough sun or when there is a mismatch between their pigmentation and ultraviolet radiation.
If your skin is dark, says Jablonski, you have more melanin pigment than if your skin is clear. This means that some of your ancestors evolved in a sunny place with high levels of UV radiation and that you have some natural sun protection function. If your skin is clear, this means that some of your ancestors evolved with lower levels of UV radiation and that your skin is more sensitive to intense sunlight. By observing your own skin, you can learn a lot about the solar conditions in which your ancestors evolved.
Jablonski urges people to consider their geography and lifestyle when making decisions about their health. Is there a strong sun all year? Do you spend more time outdoors or indoors?
"By evaluating these simple parameters of your life, you can find out if your skin color adapts well to your location and lifestyle or if there is some level of inequality," Jablonski explains. "Most people these days he has to compensate in some way for the lack of correspondence between his skin and his location and / or lifestyle. "
For people with darker skin who live in places with weak sunlight and who work inside, this means that they must compensate for the lack of vitamin D production by making sure they receive adequate vitamin D supplements, says Jablonski.
Diet alone is not an option when it comes to getting enough vitamin D.
For people with lighter skin living in places with intense sunlight, compensating for a mismatch between pigmentation and location means use sunscreen, clothing and other forms of sunscreen to protect against the harmful effects of UV radiation.
"Like the other inhabitants of the Earth, we develop under the sun, and basically we are well adapted to sunlight," says Jablonski. "The problems we have with the sun today that result in having Very little or too much sunlight is our creation and is mainly due to modern lifestyles, and the fact that we live much longer than most of our ancestors.When we understand and appreciate this, we can make an adequate compensation through our behavior and culture. "
Fear of the Sun
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy medical director of the American Cancer Society, has skin cancer. Lichtenfeld was attending a meeting about the Medicare rate - oh, the exciting life of a modern healer - when one of his colleagues tapped him on the shoulder and led him out.A group of five dermatologists who were in the meeting made an intervention and told him that a nodule on his face had to be removed immediately. They scheduled the appointment and a dermatologist removed a basal cell. Lichtenfeld appeared a week later at the congress to raise awareness about skin cancer with a bandage on his face.
Like Lichtenfeld, more than 3, 5 million Americans are diagnosed annually with skin cancer. Skin cancer constitutes approximately half of all cancers diagnosed in the country. If that number seems high, remember that the skin is the largest organ of the human body, and performs a wide variety of important functions, which include, for example, prevent your insides from falling on the ground.
The vast majority of the 3.5 million skin cancer diagnoses is non-lethal basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It is responsible for an estimated 76,690 new cases per year and is the cause of approximately 9,480 deaths per year.
Lichtenfeld says that the hypothesis linking sun exposure to skin cancer is solid, even though some dermatologists have said otherwise. One of the reasons why this hypothesis is problematic is that it is possible to have deadly skin cancer without being exposed to the sun. Melanomas can be caused by hereditary conditions or other conditions such as medications.
Regarding vitamin D, Lichtenfeld believes that it is best received through supplements.
"Most experts understand that being outdoors is part of a healthy lifestyle," he says. "What people need to know is that they should follow sunscreen behavior when they go outdoors, especially When they go to the beach, what they should not do is look for the sun as a source of vitamin D. "
"Supplements are cheap and available over the counter, it's a much safer way to get vitamin D than looking in the sun."
I asked the doctor if it was realistic to expect the whole country to buy the supplements at the same time as engaging in sunscreen behavior.
"They should do it," says Lichtenfeld. "Body experts believe that vitamin D replacement should be part of our daily habits, and it's much safer and much less expensive to take vitamin D than it is to deal with the skin cancer epidemic we have in this country. "
What's wrong, I asked him, 20 minutes of sun on his skin?
"Twenty minutes of sunshine in the middle of winter in Portland, Maine, is very different from 20 minutes of sunshine in the middle of summer in Phoenix, Arizona," says Lichtenfeld. "Different people have different skin types, and The effects of the sun on the skin are cumulative over time.You have someone with clear skin, and you can get burned or receive cumulative damage over time.Twenty minutes a day is very variable. Varies by individual. It varies by location. "
Lichtenfeld encourages everyone to" Put on-Put-on. "Put on a shirt, apply 30+ sunscreen, put on a coat,
" Tanning is a sign of damage the skin, "he says." It protects you, yes, but protects you from further damage. It is a response to harm, not a healthy response. "
Our friend, the sun
However, the sun confers many health benefits A 2008 report published by Nathaniel M. Mead says that excessive exposure to UV rays means only 0.1% of the total global burden of morbidity, according to the report of the World Health Organization 2006 "The global burden of morbidity due to ultraviolet radiation".
Mead's study indicates that Many of the diseases related to excessive exposure to UV rays are relatively benign -except malignant melanoma- and occur in older age groups, due to the time lag between exposure and manifestation or the requirement for cumulative exposure. Skin is common, but often not fatal, The same WHO report from 2006 notes that the largest annual disease burden could result from inadequate UV exposure.
Living at higher latitudes --don There is less exposure to UV rays - it has been shown to increase the risk of death from Hodgkin's lymphoma, breast, ovarian, colon, pancreas, prostate and other cancers. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and infectious diseases.
You can see how this poses a dilemma for the medical community. It is possible for people to stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, which is largely non-fatal, and as a result they are putting themselves at risk for the deadliest diseases and cancers.
"If you do a risk-benefit analysis, sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer but reduces the risk of cancers that kill Americans," explains Dr. John Cannell, executive director of the Vitamin D Council. "Sunlight is very beneficial."
Sunlight also gives benefits beyond the production of vitamin D. It has been shown that it helps to conceive sleep, slow down depression and possibly more. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have recently discovered that exposure to the sun can help reduce blood pressure. It is a small study, but if its results are maintained over time, it could lead more experts to conclude that a reduction in blood pressure is more beneficial to the population than the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Sun and Supplements
I did not know this before I interviewed him, but I follow a plan similar to what Cannell recommends, which is a combination of sun insurance and supplements.So far it has worked for me.
When the whole body is exposed to direct sunlight for short periods, it produces vitamin D quickly, close to 1,000 units per minute. The Vitamin D Council recommends 5,000 to 10,000 units per day. (You can read more about the sun's recommendations and the American Cancer Society's recommendations in the links below this story.)
Americans living south of Atlanta have the advantage of good direct sunlight throughout year. Above Atlanta, during what Cannell calls winter vitamin D, Americans should take vitamin D supplements, since there is not enough sunlight or vitamin D in the diet to meet the body's needs. I encourage you to consult with your doctor and see what he recommends.
Remember: each person's body is different, and your body is also affected by the place where you live geographically. So be smart. And, if one day you read a story about a man who exploded in the driveway of his house, sorry, it was a mistake on my part.