A new study released by both American and Norwegian scientists claims that the physical benefits of being exposed to a little sunlight outweigh the negative risks of overexposure, particularly for population groups with low levels of vitamin D.
The study was published by a group of scientists working at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in conjunction with associates in Norway. The study found that moderate exposure to sunlight stimulated the production of vitamin D, a protective agent against several diseases and forms of cancer. For those with low levels of vitamin D, this extra exposure could be worth the risk of developing skin cancer from over exposure to the sun.
One of the study’s authors, Richard Setlow, is an expert on solar radiation and its link with skin cancer. He and his colleagues have long argued that people should protect themselves from the sun or face the risk of malignant melanoma.
“We know that solar radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer,” he said, adding that the same solar radiation is also the primary source of vitamin D for most humans.
“Since vitamin D has been shown to play a protective role in a number of internal cancers and possibly a range of other diseases,” he continued, “it is important to study the relative risks to determine whether advice to avoid sun exposure may be causing more harm than good in some populations.”
The population he has in mind are those living in northern regions such as Scandinavia where people often get only a limited exposure to sunlight. Australians, according to the study, produce 4.8 times more vitamin D from sun exposure than people in Scandinavia.
The study, which was published in the National Academy of Sciences, also considered alternative forms of acquiring vitamin D including through cod liver oil, milk and dietary supplements.