The Confusing Role Of Vitamin D – The Good & The Bad
At Molescreen PDT it is our job to screen, diagnose and treat our patient’s skin for skin cancers. As Queensland is the skin cancer capital of the world, this is an endemic problem here in Brisbane and the rest of Queensland.
Whilst we don’t get involved on the research side, it’s important to keep on top of the latest scientific findings and a study produced in the USA recently concluded that the higher a person’s vitamin D levels, the higher the risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
What is Vitamin D And Why Do You Need It?
According to Dr Michael Holick, Professor of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics, “Vitamin D is a hormone and is essential for bone health throughout life but is also important for overall health and well-being.”
A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with many chronic and acute illnesses including multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, asthma and wheezing disorders, neurocognitive dysfunction including depression and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
Melody Eide, MD, and colleagues at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit based their findings on 3,223 mostly female, white patients in a Detroit health maintenance organization who had visited a doctor either because they had osteoporosis or low bone density, many of whom, (2,257) had too-low levels of vitamin D.
Over a follow-up period of almost 10 years, the study found that those with vitamin D levels above a certain threshold had a 70 percent greater risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or both. (Click here to read more.)
The Case for Safe, Sensible Sun Exposure
So on the one hand Vitamin D is important for disease prevention and on the other hand too much of it causes skin cancer.
What we know for sure, however, is that we need to balance our risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure whilst maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. While over-exposure to sun can have damaging effects on the skin, some exposure is essential for healthy vitamin D production.
The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D is different for each person so it’s not possible to give a ‘one size fits all’ recommendation on how much sun is needed to make enough vitamin D. It also depends on things like skin type, time of day, time of year, and where you are in the world.
In the summer, fair-skinned individuals can receive adequate amounts of vitamin D from exposing their arms to the sun for 6-7 minutes on most days. In winter, exposure of as much skin as possible to midday sun for up to 40 minutes provides adequate vitamin D for most fair-skinned individuals.
Most individuals can also maintain adequate vitamin D levels through regular, short-term exposure of the skin to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. However for those with increased cancer risk for example due to cancer history or immunosuppression, more rigorous sun protection is required. Dietary supplementation with Vitamin D may be required if you are unable to expose your skin to sunlight for health or cultural reasons.
For more tips on how you can safely enjoy a sunburnt country like Australia, check our article on avoiding Skin Cancer here.