The Vitamin-D-filled weekend

I just read an article about a new theory to explain the higher occurrence of cancer in the developed, Western world as opposed to other, undeveloped countries.
For decades, researchers have puzzled over why rich northern countries have cancer rates many times higher than those in developing countries — and many have laid the blame on dangerous pollutants spewed out by industry.

But research into vitamin D is suggesting both a plausible answer to this medical puzzle and a heretical notion: that cancers and other disorders in rich countries aren't caused mainly by pollutants but by a vitamin deficiency known to be less acute or even non-existent in poor nations.
A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error.

I read this and was curious... why would rich nations have a vitamin deficiency? We have plenty of food, and the money to fortify it. Poor nations don't, and yet they're getting more of this vitamin. Where do we get this vitamin D from that we don't have it and they do?

This is due to a quirk of geography, to modern lifestyles and to the country's health authorities, who have unwittingly, if with the best of intentions, played a role in creating the vitamin deficiency.

Authorities are implicated because the main way humans achieve healthy levels of vitamin D isn't through diet but through sun exposure. People make vitamin D whenever naked skin is exposed to bright sunshine. By an unfortunate coincidence, the strong sunshine able to produce vitamin D is the same ultraviolet B light that can also causes sunburns and, eventually, skin cancer.

Only brief full-body exposures to bright summer sunshine — of 10 or 15 minutes a day — are needed to make high amounts of the vitamin. But most authorities have urged a total avoidance of strong sunlight or, alternatively, heavy use of sunscreen. Both recommendations will block almost all vitamin D synthesis.

Those studying the vitamin say the hide-from-sunlight advice has amounted to the health equivalent of a foolish poker trade. Anyone practising sun avoidance has traded the benefit of a reduced risk of skin cancer — which is easy to detect and treat and seldom fatal — for an increased risk of the scary, high-body-count cancers, such as breast, prostate and colon, that appear linked to vitamin D shortages.

I thought this article was fascinating (go read the whole thing). Our advanced, climate-controlled world has broken God's design, in a way. We're no longer enjoying His world, we've made our own, indoor worlds. We've gone from working the fields and walking place to place to spending the days in air-conditioning behind UV-protected windows and, thanks to cars and garages, not ever having to step outside even when going between our indoor worlds.

So what does this have to do with this weekend? I got more than my share of vitamin D this weekend, and the bright-red sunburn to prove it. I never mind the first sunburn of the year- when the sun starts to come out in the spring, I soak it up (to an extent. I refuse to lay outside half-naked to actually soak it up like other girls. It just doesn't seem prudent.) When the sun comes out in the spring, I've always felt like I'm receiving some vitamins that I've been missing all winter- and apparently it's true. Saturday, we hiked through a nearby park, Holliday Park in Indianapolis, and had a picnic. Can't beat a picnic on a bright spring day. today, we rode our bikes from our apartments to 86th St and back, and this is where my bright-red skin came from. It was wonderful to get out, to exercise, and to get some sun, even if that left me with a burn that will probably be around a week or so.

Note my previous color, where my watch band was.


Jim Wint said...

Sunburning is a bad idea, even though you probably did process plenty of vitamin D3. It's better to build up your UV light exposure more slowly. Moderate tanning is healthy behavior.

With your light skin, one or two sessions in a tanning bed should process all the health vitamin D3 your body can use without sunburning. Visit a tanning salon weekly to maintain healthy vitamin D levels year around.

Ashley said...

Haha I love how that last comment was such a sales pitch. :-) I always thought tanning salons were a bad idea - real sun rays seem so much better!

I really appreciated this post! Paul and I went camping this weekend and I was out in the sun a good bit. We hiked down into a canyon and consequently weren't really in direct sunlight, but I managed to get a healthy almost-tan on my face. I always thought that the pale skin wasn't very attractive. I think when you let your face get some sun it looks healthy! I try not to let myself burn, but I'm all for a nice tan. :-)

I'm looking forward to getting some sun with you in July! :-)

Joanna said...

Yeah... I about responded to the last comment, then just let it be. I have a serious aversion to tanning beds and all they represent- the fact that someone is paying for beauty, while damaging their skin, on purpose. I'd rather be pale, and enjoy the outside actually doing outside activities rather than laying on a towel, or in a tanning salon. Not that I tan. Because I don't. My skin does not hold a brown pigment, ever.

I laugh when I look at one of the pictures from the wedding, of me, my mom, & the bridesmaids... can you tell which of us goes tanning?

Ashley said...

Heheh yeah that picture is so funny when you look at it that way. :-) I totally agree with you, about doing activities outside. That's healthy, too. I feel so refreshed after the hike this weekend.


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