All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for November 2003

Vitamin D deficiency -- An emerging health crisis?

November 1, 2003
Vidyya Medical News Service

In the face of a rising tide of unsubstantiated reports of the health risks related to exposure to sunlight, the National Institutes of Health just completed a conference aimed at highlighting an emerging health crisis. The Conference: “Vitamin D and Health in the 21st Century” – along with a growing number of published scientific studies – are highlighting the life-threatening impact of vitamin-D deficiency.

The NIH conference reports a frightening “re-emergence of vitamin D-deficient rickets,” “along with an alarming prevalence of low circulating levels of Vitamin D in the US population.” In addition, this conference – along with other just-published research – is documenting an increasingly strong link between low levels of vitamin D and the occurrence of life-threatening cancers, including breast, colon, prostate, ovarian and stomach cancers – as well as osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and high blood pressure.

This increased level of validated health information is being released by competent medical authorities, in part to counter the incorrect and misleading “facts” being released that have persuaded much of the public – including front-line physicians and members of the media – that exposure to sunlight is medically dangerous.

The Melanoma Myth

Much of this “purposely misleading” mis-information rebutted at the NIH Conference has been characterized as “scare tactics,” used by those who have commercial or other vested interests in persuading the population to avoid sunlight or use sunscreen whenever they’re in the sun, said Michael Stepp, president and CEO of Wolff System Technology, founding company of the indoor tanning industry in the U.S. and the leading supplier of lamps for indoor tanning beds.

While studies suggest that some easily-treated skin cancers – squamous cell and basal cell cancers – can be caused by “prolonged and abusive over-exposure” to sunlight, even this kind of extreme over-exposure has been found to have nothing to do with the incidence or occurrence of cancerous melanoma. In fact, a study published in June 2003 by the Leiden University Medical Center Department of Dermatology in the Netherlands concluded that lifetime sun exposure appeared to be associated with a lower risk of malignant melanoma.

“One of the more common beliefs offered as “fact” is the idea that natural or artificial sunlight can trigger melanoma,” according to Michael Stepp, president and CEO of Wolff System Technology, the leading supplier of lamps for indoor tanning beds. “The truth is, melanoma is believed to be genetically triggered,” Stepp explained.

Stepp pointed to studies of melanomas, including those conducted at Mayo Clinic and published in 1997, found that melanomas are more common among indoor workers than outdoor workers, and occur more often in parts of the body normally shielded from sunlight exposure. Several other studies have documented that there’s no link between the use of sunscreen – which is known to contribute to vitamin D deficiency – and the prevention of melanoma. Further supporting these studies, the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health has officially stated that no data exists that links indoor tanning – and by extension, sunlight – with melanoma skin cancer.

Vitamin D is naturally produced primarily by the UV-B component of natural or artificial sunlight interacting with skin cells. Long winters in northern latitudes, along with an increasing public misconception about the supposed health risks of exposure to sunlight, have had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of Americans. The body relies on the sun to get most of the vitamin D it needs to stay healthy. Dr. Michael F. Holick, professor of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics at Boston University Medical Center, and author of the forthcoming book, “The UV Advantage,” advocates responsible and regular UV exposure to promote health.

“Exposure to UV-B from a fluorescent tanning bed results in the photosynthesis of vitamin D in human skin,” Dr. Holick said. “This helps maintain the vitamin D requirements of the body.”

Actual medical complications from exposure to sunlight are one one-thousandth as common as the deadly cancers that appear far more frequently among those who avoid sunlight. According to a UVR Research Institute study, for every person who dies prematurely from overexposure to the sun (from all causes), there are 100 who die prematurely from the consequences of under-exposure to natural or artificial sunlight. The study further found that regular and moderate UV exposure is associated with a decrease in the risk of breast, prostate, colon and ovarian cancers, as well as reduced incidence of high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

There is an abundance of supporting evidence from a variety of respected sources. For instance, one National Cancer Institute study has found that Americans who live in sunnier southern cities have from 10 to 27 percent fewer vitamin D-deficiency-related cancer deaths from breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer than do Americans who live in more northern latitudes. Another study, published in the March 15, 2002 issue of the Journal Cancer estimated that 28,000 Americans die each year from cancers triggered by reduced solar exposure leading to insufficient levels of vitamin D, and another 80,000 preventable cases of cancer occur each year from the same cause. Similar findings were reported in the June, 2002 Canadian Medical Journal. A total of 1.3 million cases of these targeted cancers, for which there are known links to vitamin D deficiency, occur in the US every year, along with 200,000 new cases of diabetes and multiple sclerosis according to Dr. William Grant, a noted epidemiologist and NASA scientist.

NIH Findings

Among the key facts revealed at the NIH conference are:

Vitamin D deficiency is much more common than previously believed – more than 80 percent of Americans experience a vitamin D deficiency. Populations most at risk for serious vitamin D deficiency – along with deficiency-related cancers and other chronic diseases – are those in which exposure to sunlight (natural or artificial) is poor. Increased skin pigmentation and use of sunscreen markedly reduce natural production of vitamin D

* The major source of vitamin D for most humans is from exposure to UV-B rays found in natural and artificial sunlight

* Dietary supplement and fortification practices in the US and Canada are not sufficient – especially during winter – are not proving effective in preventing shortages of vitamin D in individuals

* Serious, potentially fatal medical problems stemming from vitamin D deficiency – which is to say, diseases benefiting from UV-B and/or vitamin D include 13 types of internal cancers – most especially the common killers – breast, colon, stomach, ovarian and prostate cancer. Vitamin D deficiency also strongly influences the development of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as tuberculosis and inflammatory bowel disease

* The risks of exposure to natural or artificial UV-B are grossly overstated – these can be easily managed by increasing anti-oxidant intake from food or supplements, and by regulating the length and intensity of exposure to UV-B

About Wolff System Technology

Wolff System Technology was founded by Friedrich Wolff, "the father" of the indoor tanning industry. The company manufactures lighting system for tanning beds and with patents in 16 countries, is the exclusive licensor of Wolff System certified tanning beds in the United States and Canada. As the leading manufacturer of lamps for indoor tanning beds, Wolff has more than 500,000 system in use worldwide.

With licensed Wolff System tanning equipment, the amount and type of exposure to ultraviolet light is predictable and consistent, unlike outdoor tanning where variables include the time of day, season, cloud cover, and proximity to the equator.

Copyright © 2003, RAmEx Ars Medica, Inc.