Sunshine the original medicine since 10,000 BC

It’s not called the sunshine Vitamin for nothing! Whether we like it or not vitamin D is vital in order to sustain a healthy body and mind, and best sourced from the sun. Since England is hardly the land of ‘hot pants’ and ‘palm trees’, in the sun’s absence sunbeds provide an excellent and viable supplement. It has been estimated that 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, but  why is that? Is it the food we are eating, what we are drinking or those who don’t exercise enough? Or perhaps is an exaggerated stigma about the sun which has been perpetuated on our society though the media, and their ‘buzz’ words. What we have to consider is how and why we believe the sun is so bad for us and most importantly how we choose to live our lives as a result. An amalgamation of these factors has resulted in an in-door society and will eventually have endemic affects on our society’s health.  Mike Adams (2010), the health ranger of contextualises the point in hand further, when he states that, “there is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency sweeping across our modern world, and it’s an epidemic of such depth and seriousness that it makes the H1N1 swine flu epidemic look like a case of the sniffles by comparison. Vitamin D deficiency is not only alarmingly widespread; it’s also a root cause of many other serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.”

In order to establish why this epidemic has reached such critical levels, and how we have been indirectly advised to live this way, we most look back. One can never truly understand the present without out illuminating thoughts, attitudes and events of the past.

In the Beginning………..

As Dr Holick so nicely puts it, “since the beginning of recorded time, humans have worshipped the sun for its therapeutic properties. This can be seen in cave paintings that show that exposure to sunlight was necessary for life and good health. Medical practitioners reported the benefits of sun exposure on heart health 6,000 years ago in the time of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs Ramses and Akhenaten [….]The fact that ancient people instinctively understood that sunshine was good for them is not surprising. Humans have depended on sunlight to sustain life and health since our ancestors slithered out of the primordial ooze.” Holick concludes that, “it should be put to rest the notion that sunlight is something humans must fear. Sunlight is necessary for human survival.”

Ok, so if the ancients were sun worshippers, how is it that our society will frown upon the sun and all it has to offer? Again Dr Holick reflects on the notion that people have been frightened out of the daylight when he states that, “the simple answer lies in the fact that there are many billions of dollars to be made in emphasizing the only major medical downsides of sun exposure (non-melanoma skin cancer) and not much money to be made in promoting the sun’s many benefits. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, as the leisure culture expanded and people were spending more time outdoors, the “cosme-ceutical” industry developed anti-sunburn creams that gave the user a false sense of security which encouraged excessive sun exposure. Although the products were initially introduced to prevent sunburn, they soon were being cannily marketed to prevent skin cancer. There is an important role for modern sunscreens in preventing skin cancer, and people should control sun exposure in the same way they watch how much salt, sugar, and fat they eat and how much alcohol they drink.” It important that we remember that anything is bad for us in excess, the fact that the industry has exemplified the negatives of the sun, has in turn created this stigma against it. We must remember that the cosme-ceutical industry were the ones who gave us this initial false sense of security to go in the sun as we please. The reasons for this were to capitalise on an eluded fear created by this industry. This is the same industry which has now created an anti-sunshine hysteria, and has convinced people that no amount of sun exposure is safe. Again consider why this is, and money would be the correct answer.

Others agree with this statement when Kopes-Kerr CP. (2002) states that, “In developed countries, where most doctors mean well, it has become common place to reinforce the current media vogue whichheightens melanoma hysteria and dramatically enhances the salesof sun-screen products. I think that this behaviour is acquiredtoo casually.”

Although skin cancer is undeniably there, it is important that we put the real risk into perspective. Birds- nest syndrome (meaning bird’s nests are everywhere, but it is not until we look up that we notice them). Skin cancer causes have not risen, it has always been around. Now we simply have more devises to detect it, and screening are more common, before we did not have this. Media automatically assumes skin cancer has therefore risen.

It is important that we put the danger which undeniably is there into harsh perspective, and is worth while looking at some statistics. “Non-melanoma skin caner, which may be caused by long-term sun exposure, has an extremely low death rate. Fewer than half a percent of people who develop non-melanoma skin cancer die; non-melanoma skin cancer claims 1,200 people per year in the states. Compare that with diseases that can be prevented by regular sun exposure. Colon and breast cancers, which may be prevented by regular sun exposure, have mortality rates of 20 to 65 percent and kill 138,000 Americans annually. Osteoporosis, a bone disease that can be mitigated by regular sun exposure, is endemic, affecting 25 million Americans. Every year, 1.5 million Americans with osteoporosis suffer bone fractures, which can be fatal when the person is elderly. Non-melanoma skin caner is not something to be taken lightly, and I would never minimize its effects on sufferer, but in public health terms, it is relatively unimportant when compared wit a host of killer diseases that can be prevented by regular, moderate sun exposure.” (Dr Holick)

Health savvy may now be questioning melanomas role in this equation, for those who are unfamiliar it is the most dangerous form of skin cancer different to non-melanoma which we have discussed, and, if left untreated, they are often fatal. Holick sheds light, no pun intended on the connection between the sun and this type of cancer. “There is no creditable scientific evidence that moderate sun exposure cause melanomas.”

What you have to consider now is ‘why’ you consider skin cancer to be so endemic, and other diseases, to not be, when Dr Holick has so accurately demonstrated that it is in fact the opposite. The cosmetics industry is a powerful tool, and when harnessed with the intention to make money it will rarely fail. We must also consider the media’s role in this. The media will often make bold statements in reference to the sun, from loose facts feed to them by those in favour of maximise sales for the cosmetics industry. An example being, ‘sunbeds are 20 times stronger than natural light’ when you put this statement into context it makes it sound rather silly. 20 times stronger than where? If you are comparing sunbeds to the North Pole, then yes, there is probably great truth behind this statement, but when you consider that they are comparing it to England this statement is quite preposterous, let alone grossly inaccurate. Another statement, ‘rates of the cancer have more than quadrupled’ again this statement has no real substance, when referring back to the birds-nest syndrome it can be said that we believe they have grown based on essence on the fact that screenings have become more common! You can see the contradiction.


Mike Adams: The Health Ranger (2010):

K0pes-Kerr CP. Screening for skin cancer, sense of nonsense? Family Practise 2002; 19;112-114

Holick, F, M; 2003, The UV advantage. I Books: New York.