Sunshine is good medicine. The health benefits of ultraviolet-B induced vitamin D production

Authors

  • W B Grant,

    Corresponding author
    1. Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center (SUNARC), 2107 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 403B, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA
      William B Grant, 1745 Pacific Avenue, Apt. 503, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA. E-mail: wbgrant@infionline.net
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  • R C Strange,

    1. Clinical Biochemistry Research Laboratory, Keele University School of Medicine, North Staffordshire Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England
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  • C F Garland

    1. Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, 0631C, La Jolla, CA 93093, USA
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William B Grant, 1745 Pacific Avenue, Apt. 503, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA. E-mail: wbgrant@infionline.net

Summary

Most public health statements regarding exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) recommend avoiding it, especially at midday, and using sunscreen. Excess UVR is a primary risk factor for skin cancers, premature photoageing and the development of cataracts. In addition, some people are especially sensitive to UVR, sometimes due to concomitant illness or drug therapy.

However, if applied uncritically, these guidelines may actually cause more harm than good. Humans derive most of their serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25(OH)D3) from solar UVB radiation (280–315 nm). Serum 25(OH)D3 metabolite levels are often inadequate for optimal health in many populations, especially those with darker skin pigmentation, those living at high latitudes, those living largely indoors and in urban areas, and during winter in all but the sunniest climates. In the absence of adequate solar UVB exposure or artificial UVB, vitamin D can be obtained from dietary sources or supplements.

There is compelling evidence that low vitamin D levels lead to increased risk of developing rickets, osteoporosis and osteomaloma, 16 cancers (including cancers of breast, ovary, prostate and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), and other chronic diseases such as psoriasis, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart disease, myopathy, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, hyperparathyroidism and susceptibility to tuberculosis.

The health benefits of UVB seem to outweigh the adverse effects. The risks can be minimized by avoiding sunburn, excess UVR exposure and by attention to dietary factors, such as antioxidants and limiting energy and fat consumption. It is anticipated that increasing attention will be paid to the benefits of UVB radiation and vitamin D and that health guidelines will be revised in the near future.

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