There is a very fine balance between being exposed to healthy doses of sunlight and setting yourself up for potentially grave sun damage. The benefits of spending time outdoors to boost your body’s Vitamin D production are being touted relentlessly, but so is the skin cancer risk associated with UV radiation. The role Vitamin D plays in combating myeloma cannot be ignored, especially since the American Cancer Society’s estimates that as many as 30,770 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed this year alone. On the other hand, more than 1.3 million new cases of skin cancer are being diagnosed in the USA every year according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, making it absolutely imperative to know just how much sunlight is good for you and what consequences over-exposure may result in. It is only once you can grasp the importance of Vitamin D as well as where to draw the line between safe and dangerous sun exposure that you can fully take the necessary steps to ensure you stay safe in the sun while reducing your risk of sun damage.

Exposure to the sun boosts Vitamin D production

One of the greatest benefits of being exposed to sunlight is the production of Vitamin D in the body.  It may come as a surprise to you that 20-25 minutes of outside time a day is all the sunshine you need to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels. You don’t even need to lay on the beach or beside the pool for that period as a fully-clothed walk during your lunchtime will more than suffice. Unfortunately, Vitamin D production due to sun exposure fluctuates according to the season. During the cooler months, the UV index is generally significantly lower and people spend more times indoors due to the inclement weather. Luckily the human body has adapted to this so well that anyone with sufficient levels of Vitamin D can rely on tissue stores for anywhere between 30 and 60 days. In addition to obtaining Vitamin D from UV exposure, you can get small amounts by including oily fish, eggs, margarine and milk into your diet.

Why does the body need Vitamin D?

Vitamin D benefits the body in numerous ways including improved bone development and the maintenance of musculoskeletal health, a reduced risk of contracting uterine fibroids, and a diminished risk of diabetes and cancer.

It promotes healthy bones: Vitamin D plays a vital role in regulating calcium and maintaining healthy levels of phosphorus in the blood. Both of these elements are vital in ensuring that your bones are healthy. If Vitamin D is not present in the body, all the calcium contained within the intestines would simply be flushed out of the body via the kidneys. In children, a Vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets while, in adults, it often manifests itself as osteoporosis or osteomalacia.

It reduces the risk of diabetes: According to observational studies conducted by the American Diabetes Association, there is a direct correlation between the level of Vitamin D in the body and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Low levels of Vitamin D can have a negative effect on both glucose tolerance and insulin secretion in patients with diabetes while healthy levels can reduce the risk of insulin resistance but improving the body’s sensitivity to it. Some scientists are even of the belief that Vitamin D can help regulate the actual production of insulin in the pancreas.

It reduces the risk of uterine fibroids: Although uterine fibroids are non-cancerous, they can end up growing to the size of a grapefruit in the uterus walls, causing tremendous pain and discomfort. Previously believed to only be related to hormones and a genetic influence, a study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that Vitamin D may also play a role. The study found that women with sufficient Vitamin D levels had a 32% lower chance of developing uterine fibroids as opposed to those with diminished vitamin levels.

The direct relationship between Vitamin D and multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma triggers an elevated production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) which are enzymes that permit cancer cells to transfer to surrounding tissue. Calcitriol, which is the hormonal form of Vitamin D has been found to reduce the production of MMP, thus also decreasing the chance of the cancer spreading. According to research conducted at Harvard University, patients with advanced multiple myeloma at the time of diagnosis displayed lower levels of Vitamin D. Patients with advanced multiple myeloma will, however, also tend to spend less time outside in the sun which could also result in diminished Vitamin D levels.  Further studies found a marginally reduced risk of multiple myeloma in individuals with higher levels of Vitamin D.

Dangers of prolonged exposure to the sun 

While sunlight can be very beneficial in moderation, prolonged sun exposure can have dire consequences for the human body which includes premature skin ageing, uneven pigmentation and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the USA according to the National Cancer Institute with more than 90% of skin cancer cases believed to be caused by sun damage. Of the three types of skin cancers that exist, basal cell and squamous are the least serious and account for nearly 95% of all skin cancers. Melanoma is the most serious and responsible for as much as 75% of all skin cancer fatalities.  Despite popular belief that you need to suffer from countless blistering sunburns before being at risk of skin cancer, it is not true. Getting sunburn as infrequently as once every two years can almost triple your chances of getting melanoma.

Striking a balance between just enough and too much UV exposure may seem challenging but it is a matter of such magnitude that the effort has to be made to get it right.  Invest in high-quality sun protection products, limit your time in the sun and make sure to incorporate Vitamin-D rich foods into your diet to give yourself the best chance at a happy and healthy life.

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