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Lack of Sun Exposure as Harmful to Health as Sunburns, Study Reports

People are going out of their way to avoid direct sunlight and, in the process, becoming ever more vulnerable to serious ills that appear to be countered by moderate sun and ultraviolet light exposure, from cancer and heart disease to MS, according to dermatologists and other health experts in an extensive review of literature on the benefits and risks of being outdoors on sunny days.

The review, “The Risks And Benefits Of Sun Exposure 2016,” was published in the journal Dermato-Endocrinology.

Public health authorities in the United States are recommending that men,  and children reduce their exposure to sunlight, based on concerns that this exposure will promote skin cancer,” the researchers wrote. “On the other hand, data show that increasing numbers of Americans suffer from … serious health problems caused by insufficient sun exposure.”

Beginning with benefits historically linked to sun exposure — the discovery that adequate sunlight could treat rickets in 1919, was linked to vitamin D absorption in 1931, and to lower cancer mortality rates across North America (possibly via vitamin D) in the 1960s — the authors noted the sudden turn in the following years toward an emphasis on sun risks and melanoma.

Avoidance of intentional sun exposure and use of chemical sunscreens persisted as the standard advice of physicians and public health authorities for reducing the risk of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer,” they wrote. “The risks of inadequate sun exposure have been largely ignored.”

Analyzing more than 100 studies published in the past five years for evidence of the sun’s health benefits, the researchers pointed continuously to growing evidence of the importance of vitamin D, a compound produced in the skin upon sunlight exposure, to good health.

Using the Endocrine Society’s definition of vitamin D sufficiency (less than 30 ng/mL), the authors noted that the percentage of the U.S. population with vitamin D insufficiency, largely due to sun avoidance, rose from 55 percent in 1988–94 to 77 percent in 2001–04 — in other words, affecting the “vast majority.”

Moreover, they reported, it is estimated that approximately 13 percent of deaths across the country are associated with vitamin D insufficiency, approaching the level attributed to smoking (20 percent). In fact, one 2016 study of women with “active sun exposure habits” found “lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and other non-cancer mortality” on a magnitude similar to smoking.

Researchers also found in other studies reports of sun exposure benefits not related to vitamin D, but to other molecules whose production is induced in the skin by sunlight.
Importantly, they also found evidence that the risks linked to sun exposure were related only to cases of sunburn or excessive exposure throughout a person’s lifetime. “[T]he human body has many defenses against such [ultraviolet radiation] damage [to DNA] including DNA repair mechanisms, cell cycle and growth inhibitions, reduced proliferation, enhanced sensitivity to apoptosis [cell death], … and anti-inflammatory effects; many of which are related to vitamin D produced by exposure to UVB [ultraviolet B rays],” they wrote.

Rising rates of melanoma seen across the U.S. throughout much of the 20th century they attributed to a “continually increasing”  lack of moderate or non-burning sun exposure, and its “related increasing vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency,” as well as to evidence that when Americans do go out in the sun, they tend to stay out until they get a sunburn.

Regarding MS, the authors found evidence that sunlight may be a critical environmental factor in the disease’s development. Indeed, previous studies showed that the risk and the number of MS cases increased as sun exposure decreased. One 2014 study in an animal model of MS, they wrote, also demonstrated that “sun exposure reduces the risk of MS through pathways independent of vitamin D.” That study found evidence that ultraviolet radiation worked to block inflammatory cells from infiltrating the animals’ central nervous system.
In addition to MS, the study attributed insufficient sun exposure to an increased risk of several types of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and myopia.

The message of sun avoidance advocated by our government, and some within the medical community, should be changed immediately to a recommendation of regular non-burning sun exposure for most Americans,” David Hoel, the study’s lead author and an expert on the health effects of radiation, said in a news release. “The sun is essential for life and should be diligently pursued in moderation, not avoided.”

Sunlight provides vitamin D, but it provides so much more. The UV from sunlight has other health benefits,” added Michael Holick, the study’s senior author and a professor of medicine at Boston University with a specialty in vitamin D. “Most public health agencies have ignored the indisputable evidence that sensible sun is good for you in moderation.”

The take-home message is that people should protect themselves from sunburns or excessive sun exposure, but should not avoid the sun altogether, as this poses a major public health problem. The researchers also recommend that sunscreen labels inform the public that the use of sunscreen blocks the production of vitamin D in the skin, and they have not been shown to effectively reduce the risk of skin cancer. Over-use of sunscreen, they believe, may have unintended consequences.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by MULTIPLESCLEROSISNEWSTODAY
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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