Ever since scientists convicted sunlight of causing skin cancer, many seemingly sensible people have been running around slathered in sunscreen, using hats and long sleeves to hide our skin from the sun as if we were vampires. Now it looks like we may have gone too far: We may be missing out on the benefits of sunshine.
A study (press release) released today in the journal Neurology indicates that children who spend more time in the sun may have a decreased risk of multiple sclerosis. In pairs of twins where one twin had multiple sclerosis, the MS-free sibling had spent more time outside, playing team sports and sun tanning. Scientists theorize that ultraviolet rays in sunlight trigger a protective response that protects the body from this chronic nervous system disorder, either by altering the immune system or by producing vitamin D. Twins that spent more time in the sun decreased their risk of getting MS by almost 50%, despite their genetic predisposition toward the disease.
Getting more vitamin D-drenched sunlight might be a good idea, regardless of your genetic risk for multiple sclerosis: Scientists say most people aren’t getting enough. Researchers at Boston University published a paper last week in the New England Journal of Medicine said that more than 1 billion people worldwide don’t get enough Vitamin D. Too little vitamin D for too long can result in dramatic results like rickets—a softening of the skeleton. But other dangers include Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a range of cancers, Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
And unless you eat a big, heaping serving of oily fish—like carp or herring—almost every day (and we hope you’re not), you probably aren’t getting enough from your food. The scientists recommend sensible sun exposure as part of the solution, along with supplements. “Sensible” being the operative word after the discovery that sun tanning can be addictive.