Friday, February 5, 2010

Vitamin D Deficiency Month Stirs Conversation About Healthy Sun Exposure

The UV Foundation has declared February to be National Vitamin D Deficiency Month* in order to promote awareness of the negative health concerns associated with deficient levels of Vitamin D. While the UV Foundation assures us that “moderate exposure to sunlight or UV light is the absolute best way to help the body manufacture the Vitamin D it needs” (source), the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) states that intentionally increasing sun exposure is not the answer. This article attempts to examine the facts and intentions behind these contradictory positions.

In broad terms, the UV Foundation funds ongoing activities relating to the science of ultraviolet light, including research and educational activities. Seems pretty harmless. Who wouldn’t want to invest in the scientific research of ultraviolet light? Let’s take a look at the research projects they’ve funded between 2005 and 2008: Of the 24 studies, 19 were on the topic of vitamin D and health, and 5 studies were on indoor tanning.

It would appear, based on their funding history, that the UV Foundation is specifically interested in vitamin D and tanning beds as opposed to the broader science of ultraviolet light. Could this be because two of the major contributing donors are Osram Lightbulbs and The Indoor Tanning Association?

Sue Chung, Health and Beauty writer for In Style magazine and, warns against misleading research funded by the tanning industry:

“Just as tobacco companies used to ignore and even deny the claims that smoking led to various types of cancer, the tanning salon industry continues to mislead its customers in order to keep business booming. The tanning bed industry is now a $5 billion industry and has enjoyed skyrocketing sales since 2000.” (source)

What results have been produced using tanning industry money? Because the Indoor Tanning Association funds the UV Foundation who announced National Vitamin D Deficiency Month – is the whole thing just propaganda to make tanning beds look safe?

Dr. Michael F. Holick (who is the primary recipient of UV Foundation research funding) repeatedly concludes that:

  • Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is extremely prevalent
  • Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency can lead to serious health problems
  • The most accessible and efficient source of Vitamin D is exposure to UV light
  • One of the major causes of the Vitamin D pandemic is intentional avoidance of direct sunlight

Dr. Holick suggests that, over the past 40 years, people have responded to the message that sunlight is harmful by changing their behavior to intentionally limit direct exposure to sunlight. Paradoxically, decreasing exposure to UV radiation from the sun can decrease the risk of skin cancer – however, the subsequent Vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased risk of cancer and other health problems. Because his research suggests that suitable Vitamin D levels cannot be reached through diet alone, Dr. Holick recommends a moderate intentional exposure to UV radiation.

On the other side of the conversation, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) makes very clear statements about vitamin D and sun exposure. The AAD says that you should “get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun” (source). The AAD also reiterates the general scientific consensus: that UVA and UVB radiation from tanning beds can cause skin cancer, and that the “amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun and in some cases may be stronger” (source).

Regardless of whether you agree with seeking moderate exposure to sunlight, or eliminating unnecessary exposure completely, both sides agree that no one should get a sunburn! In a public service announcement for the World Waterpark Association, Amanda Beard recommends taking safety precautions when exposed to direct sunlight. Watch her PSA video on YouTube for tips.

*What does it take to declare a National _________ Awareness Month? According to this site (source) February is also National National Awareness Month Awareness Month!

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Anonymous says:

And the AAD is funded by whom? How about a $300 Billion dollar cosmetics industry? Are you that naive?

How about this unbiased article.

John says:

This time its very long winter and most coldest winter since last 10 years.So lack of Sun UV Ray is helping increasing Vitamin D deficiency.$300 Billion dollar cosmetics industry just take advantage from this seasons.
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Skeptic says:

What would the cosmetics industry stand to gain by telling people not to go in the sun? If anything, they would sell more products after people get wrinkles and sun spots from too much sun exposure.

As to the article by Patrick Cox of Pajamas Media, Patrick is a financial writer and speaks to the potential financial impact of changing levels of vitamin D on an international scale. He makes a disclaimer stating that he is a tech investment advisor who has read thousands of scientific studies, and has found the recent publications in overwhelming support that the understanding of vitamin D optimal dosage is wrong.

He does advocate personally checking the references of scientific literature, and acknowledges the risk of liberal sun exposure. However, it is clear that Mr. Cox is under the assumption that fringe studies and "the most recent scientific studies" have the ability to instantly turn the tide on the general scientific consensus.

It will take hundreds of scientifically sound studies to match the hundreds of existing studies that Mr. Cox may not have read because they were published years ago.

Also, the existence of a vitamin D deficiency epidemic and the notion that increased sun exposure is healthy are two very different concepts.