Has scare-mongering around skin cancer contributed to the resurgence in rickets?

I spotted this article earlier this week in the UK national newspaper The Telegraph. It concerns warnings about vitamin D deficiency, and particularly how the less-than-brilliant summer we had in the UK can only add to our woes in this respect. The end result may well be an upsurge in the rates of rickets (poorly developed and deformed bone) in children, as well as an increased risk of other symptoms including muscular aches and pains.

The article quotes an orthopaedic surgeon who believes he can quite-accurately predict those who are likely to be vitamin D deficient. Girls who are thin and pale and covered up and rarely expose skin to sunlight as well as boys who spend prolonged hours indoors playing computer games. These factors, alongside some pretty dismal weather, are very likely to be contributing to vitamin D deficiency here in the UK.

But I think there’s another factor which is worth bearing in mind: For years now our Government, and most health professionals and health agencies have warned us of the supposed perilous dangers of sunlight with regard to our skin health, and particularly the propensity of sunlight to ‘trigger’ malignant melanoma. As a result, many people have become almost fearful of the sun for themselves and particularly, where relevant, their children. Sunscreens may have some role and I don’t advise burning to a crisp, but I suspect the general fear-mongering around skin cancer has caused the pendulum to swing way to far over to one side.

It should be perhaps borne in mind too that the role of sunlight exposure in melanoma is not as clear-cut as some would have us believe. While there is good evidence linking longer sunlight exposure with an increased risk of relatively harmless non-melanoma skin cancers (known as squamous cell and basal cell cancers), it turns there is some evidence linking longer sunlight exposure with reduced risk of melanoma. It’s also a condition that is more common in indoor workers than outdoor workers such as farmers and gardeners. Also, the majority of squamous and basal cell cancers occur in sun-exposed parts of the body (e.g. face and back of the hand) while the majority of malignant melanomas do not.

So there is reason to believe that many of the concerns about sunlight and skin cancer been overblown, and have also contributed to generally inadequate vitamin D levels in the UK (and elsewhere). And this is likely to be contributing to the disease burden, not just in the form of rickets and muscle pain, but a range of other issues as well including osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and enhanced risk of many different forms of cancer.

At this time of year in the UK there is zero chance of making vitamin D from sunlight (the sun is too low in the sky and by the time the sun’s rays hit the Earth they have lost any vitamin D-generating power).

I advise concerned individuals to have their vitamin D levels checked. Here in the UK this can be done quite economically (£25.00) and conveniently via this service. More information and advice about vitamin D can be found in a recent article which you can read here.

6 Responses to Has scare-mongering around skin cancer contributed to the resurgence in rickets?

  1. Wilson 30 November 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    I have been seeing a professor of endocrinology who is monitoring my vit d. Here’s what he said: you don’t get that much through diet, in the uk most people have levels that are too low and need to supplement in winter, 90-100nmol are good levels to have (the vitamin d council-US- feel that serum levels need to be higher than this).

    Then I read The Herald (Glasgow paper who makes it their business to report latest in vit d as Scottish government taking issue v seriously). The headline said: longer life linked to having low vitamin d – according to Dutch scientists from Leiden university. Yes, LOW, levels.

    Ho hum.

  2. Vanessa 30 November 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    There is also a link between vitamin D deficiency and diabetes, another disease on the rise…

  3. JustMEinT 30 November 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    and in Australia now they promote SPF 50 skin cream!!!! Tasmania is similar to the UK in that except for one or two months each year people get too little natural Vitamin D. My own naturopathic doctor wants to see my levels around 90 – 110, whuch I am working on attaining with daily supplementation of 5000IU daily.

    Elderly and infirm patients ought to be prescribed 5000IU daily instead of some of the horrible drugs they are currently given – especially as they do not get outside and into the sunshine.

  4. helen 2 December 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    yes well this is not rocket science I remember 20 years ago when the slip slop slap campaign against sun exposure began here in Australia saying just watch all the lack of vitamin D diseases end up on the rise…………..strangely enough skin cancer rates have risen too but all the heliophobes just insist it is because no one is heeding the sun exposure message!!!! I think it is more likely that they are heeding it too well………..there is a whole generation of kids now who dont even know what sun on bare skin feels like ……….me I burn easily but I dont wear sun screen because it irritates my skin, I dont spend more than half an hour in the full sun at any one time I opt for shade and sensible sun exposure ……….I am fine!!

  5. John Duggan 4 December 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Helen, There is probably nowhere on earth where the use of sunscreen has been more heavily promoted than Australia. I wouldn’t mind betting that the increase in skin cancer is linked with all those chemicals, nicely bubbling away in a nourishing bath of sunlight

  6. Paul N 6 December 2012 at 1:39 am #

    Having grown up in Australia in the 70’s and 80’s, I remember the first slip slop slap campaigns, and they have been ruthlessly promoted ever since. It is manadatory for schoolkids to wear hats outside, etc etc.

    I think there are several related factors at work here. In addition to not getting the vit D making UVB sunshine, and skin suffering the insult of parabens and other stuff in sunscreen, we have altered skin chemistry from our diets.
    The massive amounts of omega 6 fats, and reduced amounts of saturated fats in our diets, have changed our skin lipid composition. The problem with lots of n-6 in our skin is that it is *very* sensitive to oxidation by UV light! So we have made our skin hypersensitive to sunlight, and that includes the UVA that you get in morning/evening/winter.

    Since going onto the “Perfect Health Diet”, and ditching all n-6 oils, my skin has improved notably. This last (Canadian) summer, i used a natural sunscreen – coconut oil! I found I could go walking/cycling all day without any sunburn whatsoever, while my health conscious cycling buddy – margarine eating and sunscreen slathering, was red on any parts that did not receive sunscreen every 2hrs.

    If we look at what tropical people ate and used for natural sunscreen, it is the saturated tropical oils – coconut and palm – that they have used for millennia, with no skin cancer.
    Our skin, and heart, health will be much better for using them too.

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