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22.01.2022


Sunlight | In the right dose, a free medicine for a healthier and longer life

If you are to believe some dermatologists, ultraviolet light is just as dangerous as smoking. The more cigarette smoke you get in your lungs, the higher your risk of lung cancer - and the more sunlight that hits your skin, the higher your risk of skin cancer. According to a Swedish study published in 2016 in the Journal of Medicine, this narrative is incorrect. In this study, sunlight protects against cancer in general and against skin cancer in particular.


Sunlight | In the right dose, a free medicine for a healthier and longer life


Study
The researchers, who were affiliated with the Karolinska Institutet, followed a group of nearly 30,000 Swedish women from 1990-1992 to 2011. This happened in the Melanoma in Southern Sweden Study.

When the study began, the women were 20-64 years old. They had answered questions about how often they exposed themselves to sunlight, for example by sunbathing or swimming outside. The researchers also asked the women whether they ever used a tanning bed.

Results
The women who avoided natural sunlight and synthetic sunlight were most likely to die. Conversely, it was precisely the women who received the greatest amount of ultraviolet light who had the lowest chance of dying.

This was true for both smokers and non-smokers.


Sunlight | In the right dose, a free medicine for a healthier and longer life


Remarkably, the risk of death in the smoking women who received a lot of ultraviolet light was just as great as in the non-smoking women who avoided ultraviolet light.

Among both smokers and non-smokers, the women with the greatest exposure to ultraviolet light had the lowest risk of cancer. That was true for all types of cancer, including skin cancer.

Click on the table below for a larger version.


Sunlight | In the right dose, a free medicine for a healthier and longer life


Sunlight also reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Mechanism
The researchers are unable to deduce from their study why exposure to ultraviolet light reduces the risk of death in their study. Vitamin D may play a role, but that may not be the full story.

A possible additional explanation is that ultraviolet light causes skin cells to produce endorphins that attenuate stress stimuli. Another possibility is that energy-rich daylight during the day promotes the breakdown of melatonin, so that the brain produces extra melatonin in the evening. Melatonin has an anti-cancer effect.

Conclusion
The researchers do not assume that more sunlight is not synonymous with better. Who frequently exposes his skin to too much sunlight, which causes the skin to burn, does increase his risk of skin cancer, and certainly does not become healthier.

But there is also such a thing as an optimal amount of sunlight. Seeking that optimal amount wisely may result in better health and longer life than completely avoiding sunlight.

Source:
J Intern Med 2016; 280: 375-87.

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