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Sunlight | In the right dose, a free medicine for a healthier and longer life
If you are to believe some dermatologists, ultraviolet light is just as dangerous as smoking. The more cigarette smoke you get in your lungs, the higher your risk of lung cancer - and the more sunlight that hits your skin, the higher your risk of skin cancer. According to a Swedish study published in 2016 in the Journal of Medicine, this narrative is incorrect. In this study, sunlight protects against cancer in general and against skin cancer in particular.
When the study began, the women were 20-64 years old. They had answered questions about how often they exposed themselves to sunlight, for example by sunbathing or swimming outside. The researchers also asked the women whether they ever used a tanning bed.
This was true for both smokers and non-smokers.
Remarkably, the risk of death in the smoking women who received a lot of ultraviolet light was just as great as in the non-smoking women who avoided ultraviolet light.
Among both smokers and non-smokers, the women with the greatest exposure to ultraviolet light had the lowest risk of cancer. That was true for all types of cancer, including skin cancer.
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Sunlight also reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
A possible additional explanation is that ultraviolet light causes skin cells to produce endorphins that attenuate stress stimuli. Another possibility is that energy-rich daylight during the day promotes the breakdown of melatonin, so that the brain produces extra melatonin in the evening. Melatonin has an anti-cancer effect.
But there is also such a thing as an optimal amount of sunlight. Seeking that optimal amount wisely may result in better health and longer life than completely avoiding sunlight.