The authors have tackled a controversial subject, one not addressed in other alternative health books. According to them, one factor making Americans less healthy is not just poor diet, pollution and lack of exercise — it’s a deficit of sunlight.
They build a powerful case that sunlight is healthy for us in many ways. The most well-known is that it’s the action of sun on our skin that is our source of Vitamin D, a vitamin far more important to our health than it’s generally given credit for. Supplementation with artificial forms of this vitamin in our milk and other foods is no real substitute for the real thing.
The list of benefits of Vitamin D is on page xii of the Preface, and it’s a long one starting with helping to prevent 17 different kinds of cancers, going to reducing the risk of heart attack and ending with preventing bowel and inflammatory disorders.
One strong indication that they may be on to something is the charts they publish listing countries in order of latitude (distance from the equator) and their death rate for breast and colon cancer.
There appears to be a strong correlation between distance from the equator (north, meaning people living in that country get less sunlight) and death rates of those cancers.
They also include a map of just the United States, showing that death rates from prostate are higher the farther north you live.
Plus, they point out that cancer death rates for African-Americans are higher than for whites, and say this could be due to their skin pigmentation, which blocks the absorption of Vitamin D from sunlight. Therefore, African-Americans need to spend more time in the sun to get the same health benefit.
They claim that we need more Vitamin D than the standard “your face in the sun ten minutes a day” advice. The more the better.
Part of the problem is simple geography. The farther north you live, the less sunlight you can be exposed to — especially during the winter months.
While you can’t do anything to change that (short of moving to the tropics), the standard medical advice to stay out of the sun and to put on sunscreens just makes your situation worse.
And what about skin cancer? There’re three kinds: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Malignant Melanoma.
The first two comprise 95% of all cases of skin cancers, yet only 25% of skin cancer deaths. They’re easily treated. And they are associated with skin damaged by excess sunlight — that is, sunburn.
The authors advise getting more sunlight, but not so much that you burn your skin. Take it easy until you’ve built up a protective tan. This prevents sun burns, which do damage your skin and could eventually result in skin cancer.
The kind which is the real problem is malignant melanoma and — guess what — people get that in places which do not get sunlight, such as the bottoms of their feet. And, interestingly, a sun tan may protect you from this scary kind of skin cancer. Studies show that people who work outside have lower rates of malignant melanoma than office workers.
If the authors are correct, sun screens not only block healthy sunlight from your skin, they contain ingredients that may cause skin cancer.
This is meant as a popular book. I for one would like to see the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) do a full, comprehensive statistical analysis of how the death rate of many different diseases correlates to latitude.
Right now, anyone choosing to dispute this book can simply say that perhaps the authors “cherry-picked” their death by cancer.
Also, how can we someone factor in the rate of infectious diseases, which are still high in the developing countries that tend to be clustered closer to the equator?
And there’s two major gaps. The author don’t discuss tanning salons. I suspect they are not a healthy alternative to real sunshine, but I don’t know their position.
They recommend leaving off sunglasses so our eyes benefit from sunlight — but what about the kind of sunglasses that block out only ultraviolet wavelengths?
Hopefully they’ll include sections on these issues in any future editions.