shunning sun as hazardous as smoking

The Benefits of Sunshine

With the American Lung Association stating that smoking kills 201,770 women in the U.S. yearly and the Melanoma Foundation, noting that there will be 29,510 invasive melanoma cases reported in females in 2016, it’s hard to believe that nonsmokers who shun the sun have a shorter life expectancy than smokers who don’t. However, that’s what a new study conducted out of Sweden found.

An article published in the Journal of Internal Medicine March 21, 2016, covered a study conducted by Pelle Lindqvist, M.D. and colleagues from Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Sweden, who did a 20-year study of 29,518 women between the ages of 25 and 64 who had no history of malignancy and researched how sunshine affected smokers and nonsmokers.

The study found that nonsmoking women who avoided the sun had a similar life expectancy as women smokers who regularly sunbathed. The authors of the study noted that staying out of the sun “is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking.” The study showed that women smokers around 60 years-old who had an active habit of sun exposure, lived two years longer than nonsmokers who avoided the sun.

Another strength of the Swedish study was the results were dose-specific and the benefits of sunshine went up with amount of exposure. Women who spent time in the sun were usually at a lower risk of developing problems such as cardiovascular diseases and other non-cancer and non-cardiovascular diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetics and pulmonary diseases than women who shunned sunshine.

Dr. Lindqvist told Medscape Medical News that women shouldn’t overexpose themselves to too much sun, but that underexposure of sunshine might be more dangerous than people believe, stating, “We know in our population, there are three big lifestyle factors (that endanger health): smoking, being overweight and inactivity. Now we know there is a fourth – avoiding sun exposure.”

The doctor also noted that the use of sunscreen is widely misunderstood and if stuck out in the sun it’s probably better to have sunscreen than not. He also stated that women having more pigmentation would be better off by not avoiding sunshine, because they are less likely to have melanomas and the benefits outweigh the negatives.

The authors of the study did note, “Whether the positive effect of sun exposure in this observational study is mediated by vitamin D, another mechanism related to ultraviolet radiation, or by unmeasured bias cannot be determined. Therefore, additional research is warranted.” The doctor did note that they found an increased risk of skin cancer in those exposing themselves to the sun, but the prognosis was better.

Adam Friedman, M.D., FAAD noted in the Journal of Medicine, “For certain and without a doubt, in this case, the last thing we need is for people to believe that baking in the sun will prolong their lives.” It seems the jury is still out on this study’s findings.