A Story From My Veteran Dad

Happy Memorial Day…

Today, from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank all the brave men and women who served in our country’s armed forces.

And to honor their ultimate sacrifice…

My father was a WWII veteran. He served in the Pacific. In fact, it was his stories of the tropical island of Bali that inspired me to go there.

I followed in his footsteps and traveled to Bali many times. I wanted to see the island that so enchanted my dad. But I also wanted to learn about the island’s rich and unique herbal traditions.

When I was in Bali, I learned many things that I think are appropriate to share with you today, considering it’s the unofficial start of summer. And all the fun in the sun that comes with this time of year.

If you’re like most people, as you head to the beach or the pool or the park this weekend, you’ll slather on sunscreen… thinking you’re doing the right thing.

I understand.

Because for the past 40-plus years, I’ve been listening to the media tell us that we absolutely have to stay out of the sun to avoid cancer.

Or cover every inch of our bodies with sunscreen.

I couldn’t disagree more. Now a brand new study backs up what I’ve been saying. I’ll tell you more about that in a moment…

For more than 40 years, we’ve followed the same bad advice about the sun and sunscreen. To the tune of more than $1.1 billion. That’s what Americans are expected to spend on sun products in the next couple of years.1

But here’s the irony…

Using sunscreen has done nothing to protect us from melanoma.

In fact, the rate of skin cancer has risen dramatically in the last 30 years. And over the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined.

If this pace continues, another 112,000 new cases will be diagnosed by 2030.2

We’re not getting too much sun exposure. We’re getting too little.

The truth is that when you avoid the sun — either by staying inside or covering up with sunscreen — your rate of skin cancer increases.

An important study, published in the respected journal Lancet, reported that “indoor workers have an increased risk for melanoma compared with those who work outdoors, indicating ultraviolet radiation is in some way protective against this cancer.”3

And a Swedish study found that those who avoid the sun have an increased risk of skin cancer. They’re also twice as likely to die from any kind of cancer compared to people with higher sun exposure.4

I’ve been telling my patients about the healing benefits of the sun for decades. After all, humans were designed to live in the sunshine. And when the sun’s rays reach your skin, your body starts to produce vitamin D.

Along with cancer, low vitamin D levels are linked to:

  • Alzheimer’s — In a large study of 1,658 seniors, those with a mild vitamin D deficiency had a 53% increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Those who were severely deficient had a 125% increased risk.5
  • High blood pressure — People with the highest vitamin D levels have a 30% lower risk of developing hypertension.6
  • Heart disease — Patients with the lowest D levels are 43% more likely to develop coronary artery disease.7
  • Diabetes — Not only do high levels of vitamin D reduce your risk of developing diabetes, a recent study found that sufficient levels switch on specific receptors in the pancreas to help control blood sugar.8
  • Depression — A large international meta-analysis found that depressed patients commonly have lower levels of vitamin D.9
  • Broken bones — Strong levels of vitamin D reduce your risk of breaking a bone in any part of your body by 60%.10

But here’s the problem we’re facing today…

Sunscreens block the absorption of vitamin D. A brand new study found that using a sunscreen product with an SPF of 15 or more blocked vitamin D production by a whopping 99%.11

Contributing to a billion people worldwide who are vitamin D deficient. It’s no wonder disease rates are soaring.

Of course, no one wants to get a sunburn. They hurt. And leave you vulnerable to leathery skin, wrinkles and age spots — a condition known as photoaging.

But when you expose your skin to the sun, your skin adapts and builds up pigment called melanin that protects you from a painful sunburn. I call melanin your body’s built-in sunscreen. And by slowly building it up, you can spend more time in the sun without burning.

Practice Safe Sun

I tell my patients to practice what I call “gentle tanning.” Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start out slowly. If you haven’t basked in the sun for a while, ease into it. And if you’re fair-skinned, limit yourself to 10 to 20 minutes a day. If you have a darker complexion, then you can push it to about an hour.
  2. Expose yourself. It’s not enough to just take a walk outdoors. You need to roll up your sleeves and pant legs and expose some skin. But do wear a hat. Your face gets enough natural sunlight exposure every day.
  3. Timing is everything. Get out in the sun when your shadow is shorter than you are. Typically that’s between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. That’s when the sun is highest and rays are strongest so you can get good exposure over a short time.

Just 10 minutes in the midday sun can give you 10,000 IU of vitamin D.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. The Global Sun Care Products Market. Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (strategyr.com).
2. Simon S. “Melanoma skin cancer rates are on the rise.” American Cancer Society. June 2015.
3. Rivers JK. “Is there more than one road to melanoma?” The Lancet. 28 February 2004.
4. Lindqvist PG, et al. “Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality.” J Int Med. 2014; 276(1):77-86.
5. Littlejohns TJ, et al. “Vitamin D and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease.” Neurology. 2014; 83(10):920–928.
6. Mehta V and Agarwal S. “Does vitamin D deficiency lead to hypertension?” Cureus. 2017; 9(2): e1038.
7. Ranin RC. “Vitamin D shows heart benefits in study.” The New York Times. November 16, 2009.
8. Mitri J, et al. “Vitamin D and type 2 diabetes: A systematic review.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011; 65(9):1005-1015.
9. University of Georgia. “Vitamin D deficiency, depression linked in UGA-led international study.” December 2, 2014.
10. Brown SE, et al. “Vitamin D and fracture reduction: An Evaluation of the Existing Research.” Altern Med Rev. 2008; 13(1):21-33.
11. Pfotenhauer K and Shubrook J. “Vitamin D deficiency, its role in health and disease, and current supplementation recommendations.” J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2008; 13(1):21-33.