Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it won’t be long before the warnings to apply your sunscreen and stay out of the sun start flooding your TV, radio and online news sites, all in the effort of sparing you the fate of coming down with skin cancer.


The warnings come with support of health officials and a 100 percent backing by the American Academy of Dermatology, but an intriguing commentary in Outside Online questions whether the advice to avoid the sun is as wrong as the advice to avoid butter was until recently.

Since we now know that the trans fats in margarine are far worse for you than the natural fats in real butter, what’s to say that staying out of the sun isn’t worse for you than soaking up some of those rays? The featured article offers several ideas on why sun avoidance may be as risky as smoking, but it also unintentionally highlights some of the mistakes that researchers make when studying the value of vitamin supplementation.

Granted, nothing beats the sun for revving up your vitamin D levels. Not only that, many sunscreens are toxic and only half as effective as claimed. For example, when you’re counting SPFs — sun protection factors — SPF applies to UVB rays only, not UVA, which are actually responsible for the UV damage to your skin.

That means if you are going to use sunscreen, to protect against UVA you need to look for a broad-spectrum product that specifies protecting against UVA. But the more important thing to remember is that excessive use of sunscreen contributes to vitamin D deficiency, which in turn increases your risk of a wide array of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer.

As the featured article suggests, the best way to get your “D” is to spend about 20 minutes a day in full sun. But when you can’t do that, you may want to consider supplementation, making sure you balance your vitamin D3 with your intake of vitamin K2, magnesium and calcium.

Another thing you may want to take note of is the featured article’s references to studies purportedly proving that supplementation “failed spectacularly in clinical trials.”

It’s true that some of these “rigorous” trials showed no benefits for vitamin D or fish oil in supplement form. But it’s also true that these same studies used doses so low — even when they were registered as “high” doses — that the abysmal results would be expected.

In the vitamin D trials, for example, published reports warned consumers that doses as large as 4,000 IUs were dangerous and didn’t provide additional protection against cancers or chronic disease, anyway. The thing is, the trials used “high” doses lower than that, and measured dosages, not vitamin D levels, to determine whether supplementing is good for you or not.

Additionally, when you look at all the factors involved in these studies, you’ll find that researchers who concentrate only on vitamin D have been pointing out for some time that the current vitamin D recommendations were miscalculated by a factor of 10 — meaning that the dosages you’re being told are safe are way too low, not too high.

And, even though dedicated vitamin D researchers have for a long time urged the National Academy of Medicine to reconfigure its recommendation, to date nothing has been done to remedy the error.

Since similar errors have been made with fish oil trials, which either don’t use high enough levels of the vitamin to make a statistical difference, or use synthetic oils as opposed to pure fish oil like krill, it’s indeed important to study up on the studies and ask questions about dosages versus the levels that are actually in your blood, before you make a decision to supplement or not.

In the meantime, the best way to get your vitamins is with a dose of sunshine and whole foods consisting of organic, grass fed, free-ranging dairy, meats and poultry, along with fresh, whole vegetables and fruits.

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