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Top cancer doctor says you SHOULD have a sunbed session

By Professor Tim Oliver
Last updated at 11:36 PM on 24th January 2009

 
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The message from doctors has long been unequivocal - there is no such thing as a safe suntan because sun exposure causes skin cancer. However, despite being a cancer expert myself, I have just spent the past four weeks on holiday in South Africa, where I made sure I got out into the sun every day.

Current medical advice is to cover up in the sun, but I believe the health benefits of exposure to its UVA and UVB rays greatly outweigh the disadvantages, even if that means using a sunbed during winter months.

This is because the body converts sunshine into Vitamin D, a substance that helps build a healthy immune system and strong bones, and may even fight off depression and cancer.
Vitamin D is known to play a vital role in metabolism of calcium, which is needed for strong bones.

And last week a new study revealed it may help stave off Alzheimer's Disease. Research on English adults aged 65 and over showed that as their Vitamin D levels decreased, mental impairment increased.

Deficiency can also cause osteomalacia - a weakening of the bones that may cause rheumatism or chronic backache - and children can develop rickets, a condition in which the bones do not develop properly.

Research has shown that without it we are more prone to everyday infections such as colds and flu, and also more worrying ones, such as tuberculosis (TB).

 
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But perhaps more surprisingly, there is also evidence that Vitamin D could protect us from cancer.

Recent studies have found those countries with the most annual sunshine have the fewest cases of colon, prostate and breast cancer (although exactly what role Vitamin D plays isn't totally clear in these instances).

In one case, sunshine exposure was linked to a 40 per cent reduced risk of prostate cancer.

And research published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 reported a possible reduction of breast cancer in women who took Vitamin D tablets.

The idea that Vitamin D is essential for good health is not new; nor is the connection to sunlight.

In Britain just after the turn of the 19th Century, children in cities had less exposure to sunlight and became crippled by rickets. It was also discovered that TB - which was commonplace - could be treated with cod liver oil, another good source of Vitamin D, and sunlamps - early versions of sunbeds that provide artificial UV light similar to sunlight.

But in more recent years, antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases such as TB are emerging, proving that medicine may no longer be enough.

 
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