May 11, 2016

Director's Letter 
Carole Baggerly 
Director, GrassrootsHealth 

Harness the Power of the Sun for Health  

Do you know why we chose the word 'harness'? The definition of harness is to bring under conditions for effective use, to gain control over for a particular end. That is what we aim to help you do with the sun - to harness its power for your health. 

We are aware that every government agency recommends zero unprotected (by sunscreen, clothing, or shade) sun exposure. In fact, on April Fool's day this year Dr. Mercola did a piece entitled, "US Rolls Out New National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan," which proposed a sign be erected at the exit of every government building. Did you fall for this joke? 

From time to time, we get put into situations where we have to make a true 'value' based decision--not just convenience or preference.  Sometimes, the decision actually pushes so hard that it makes us aware its about living up to our personal values.  I have not had too many of these in my life where there was someone else directing my actions, impacting my values.

When I was undergoing chemo for my breast cancer in 2007, the treatment created such pain that I came to the conclusion that it was totally 'wrong' for my body.  It was an attack.  It was violence against my body.  I realized my body was mine to protect and, I chose to do so.  I told the oncologist that I would not take any more of the drug because it had the potential for such long term negative side effects.  He literally left the room and would not talk with me.  So many lessons here.  I am proud today of the choice I made then, I did what I believed in whether or not some 'authority' did.

I think we have the same choice now about sunshine.  There is too much purposeful fear that I see about skin cancer and, the proposed solution of staying out of the sun may help, BUT, it HINDERS more!  We will be presenting some information for each of you to use to make your own decisions, to fit with your values for health.  Let us know how it works for you!

Today, to help illustrate the need for evaluating benefits and risk we are profiling Dr. Richard Weller who has succinctly explained why sun is good for overall health, even with the risk it poses to skin cancer. 

In addition we are explaining the first key to understanding sensible sun exposure - skin type. Please share with all, as this seems to be one of the most misunderstood pieces about sun exposure, mostly due to the blanket recommendations of government entities.

Carole Baggerly 
Director, GrassrootsHealth 
A Public Health Promotion & Research Organization 
Moving Research into Practice NOW!
Could the Sun be Good for your Heart?

Richard B. Weller, MD, FRCP
University of Edinburgh
MRC Centre for Inflammation Research
Dr. Weller studied in England, Australia and Scotland.  His research training was in the laboratories of Professor Victoria Kolb-Bachofen in D�sseldorf, Germany and Dr. Tim Billiar in Pittsburgh, USA. He wrote the textbook Clinical Dermatology in 2013 with the hopes of enthusing family doctors with the joy and challenge of diagnosing and treating skin disorders. His research on skin and nitric oxide has made him passionate about helping people understand the benefits of sunlight, in fact, one of his recent speaking engagements was titled, Soak up the sun and to hell with skin cancer!
Weller gave a TED talk in March 2012, Could the sun be good for your heart?, describing both his training and his transition into researching mortality - why do different cultures have different mortality rates? Did the Aussies have lower mortality rates due to their active lifestyle? Why did the Brits have an increased rate of heart disease, and deaths due to heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke?

He explains that sun is good for you. And, not just the vitamin D you produce by being in the sun. He considers epidemiologic data about vitamin D as a marker for sun exposure, and goes on to argue that there are additional benefits from the sun, especially for cardiovascular disease.

"High vitamin D levels, I think, are a marker for sunlight exposure, and sunlight exposure, in methods I'm going to show, is good for heart disease." - Dr. Richard Weller

Weller explains the benefits of nitric oxide which our bodies produce from sun exposure. Benefits include: dilated blood vessels which lowers blood pressure, and dilated coronary arteries which stops angina.

After studying nitric oxide in mouse models and humans he came to realize that nitric oxide is stored in the biggest organ of the body, the skin. It is designed to be released, and flow abundantly in the body, after sun exposure - which is a natural event designed to occur daily. He chose to experiment with people using sunlamps, so that he could expose their skin to UVA and not UVB (thus not introduce vitamin D into the equation). He confirmed that UVA exposure to the skin raised nitric oxide levels in the blood and reduced overall blood pressure.

Weller goes on to explain how UV exposure from the sun works, in the different latitudes and different times of year - basically amounting to no UV rays for Britain in the winter which he surmises accounts for the higher rate of health issues the farther away from the equator.

He concludes his talk with this statement:

"I'm a dermatologist. My day job is saying to people, 'You've got skin cancer, it's caused by sunlight, don't go in the sun.' I actually think a far more important message is that there are benefits as well as risks to sunlight. Yes, sunlight is the major alterable risk factor for skin cancer, but deaths from heart disease are a hundred times higher than deaths from skin cancer. And I think that we need to be more aware of, and we need to find the risk-benefit ratio. How much sunlight is safe, and how can we finesse this best for our general health?"

View TED video

Skin Type Matters

In order to get sensible sun exposure you need to take into account:
  • Your skin type
  • The current UV strength (depends on time of day, location, season)
  • Duration
This week we are going to focus on skin type. Why? Because if you read government regulations, do a quick Google search, or ask a dermatologist - most will say the same thing - sunscreen before you go outside and if you do get sun exposure it should be no longer than 15 minutes midday.

"Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun's UV rays in as little as 15 minutes." - CDC web site

"Whatever our skin color, we're all potentially susceptible to sunburn and other harmful effects of exposure to UV radiation." - FDA web site

15 minutes?

Yes, that is what you hear often. It's just not that simple. Fifteen minutes is too short for many and too long for others. There are 6 different Fitzpatrick skin types, each can withstand different amounts of sun before burning. Please take a moment to review these types. Once you have identified your skin type, you can then use tools such as the free app, dminder, to approximate how much time you can spend in the sun without burning. dminder uses EPA burn data, your self-input skin type, your location and current UV index to approximate when burning might occur and give you an alarm before that time. 
Why does skin type matter?

The darker your skin, the more melanin it contains. Dr. Michael Holick calls melanin your body's natural sunscreen. Melanin in your skin is genetic, but it can also increase through gradual, sensible sun exposure. (This is explained in minutes 7:20 - 10:30 of Holick's presentation Sunlight and your Health: An EnLIGHTening Perspective).

According to the 2008 paper by Brenner and Hearing, The protective role of melanin against UV damage in human skin, individuals with white skin are 70 times more likely to get skin cancer than individuals with black skin. It also explains that melanin could provide up to a 4 sun protection factor (SPF) and explains that white skin allows 3 to 4 times more UVB and UVA, respectively, to pass through the epidermis to deeper layers of the skin than black skin.


Acclimation is also very important, as explained above with the increase of melanin. Based on recent sun exposure, two people of the same skin type could be in the same location for the same amount of time and one would burn and the other wouldn't simply because one had already become acclimatized to sun exposure and the other hadn't. 

We recommend starting sun exposure very gradually. The Rollier method described below exposes only the feet for 5 minutes at solar noon on day 1 of acclimation. Day 2 your feet are exposed for 5 minutes and then your feet and shins for an additional 5 minutes. Continue gradual exposure for a whole week. Even without these exact limitations on exposure area and time, the general idea of slowly allowing skin to be exposed for increasing amounts of time over a period of several days is recommended.

Editor's Letter
Susan Siljander
Marketing Director, GrassrootsHealth

Enjoy and share this week's Sunny Hippocrates cartoon!

Susan Siljander
Marketing Director, GrassrootsHealth
A Public Health Promotion & Research Organization
Moving Research Into Practice NOW!
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Why the Cancer Moonshot Should be Heading Towards the Sun
Mercola Article
May 9, 2016

"I firmly believe that any cancer prevention or treatment strategy that excludes vitamin D is depriving the patient of a safe and vital immune boost to defeat the cancer." 

- Dr. Joseph Mercola

Could the sun be good for your heart?
March 2012
Dr. Richard Weller

Sunlight Has Cardiovascular Benefits Independent of Vitamin D
Richard Weller, MD, FRCP
University of Edinburgh

America is Getting the Science of Sun Exposure Wrong
Why US dermatologists won't base recommendations on skin color
June 2014


free app!

tracks vitamin D from the sun


helps you get vitamin D without burning your skin


notifies you to get your sun exposure at the right time of day


Web site


Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health
June 22, 2015

Carole A. Baggerly, Raphael E. Cuomo, Christine B. French, Cedric F. Garland, Edward D. Gorham, William B. Grant, Robert P. Heaney, Michael F. Holick, Bruce W. Hollis, Sharon L. McDonnell, Mary Pittaway, Paul Seaton, Carol L. Wagner, Alexander Wunsch

"This is one of the best papers I have ever seen. Congratulations. You have done it! You have laid out the argument for moderate sun exposure in a way that people should be able to understand." - Vitamin D Society

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