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ABSTRACT

Most common diseases appear to result from complex, poorly understood interactions between genetic and environmental factors. Relatively few factors have been unequivocally linked with disease risk or outcome. Evidence from various studies using different experimental approaches has been interpreted as showing that, apart from its harmful effects on the pathogenesis of the common skin cancers, ultraviolet radiation (UVR) may exert a beneficial effect on development of various internal cancers and other pathologies. This concept is supported by parallel studies showing that hypovitaminosis D is linked with increased risk of various diseases including insulin resistance and multiple sclerosis. These findings suggest that, first, host factors such as skin pigmentation that affect UVR-induced synthesis of vitamin D and, second, polymorphism in genes that mediate the effectiveness of vitamin D action are susceptibility candidates for a variety of diseases. Collectively, these data suggest the hypothesis that, via effects on vitamin D synthesis, UVR exposure has beneficial effects on susceptibility and outcome to a variety of complex diseases. We describe evidence from studies in various diseases, but mainly from prostate cancer patients, that supports this hypothesis, but we emphasize that, although supportive data are available, the concept is unproven. Indeed, other explanations are possible. However, given the potentially important public health implications of the hypothesis and the potential for the development of novel therapeutic modalities, we believe the concept is worthy of further investigation.