Part of paleo is about experimentation and discovery. This winter I started experimenting with going to the solarium....better known as the tanning salon. That's right, I went to the tanning salon. Really courting medical controversy here. So here's why I went.
My initial reason was to get a base layer and avoid a sunburn in Mexico. I had signed up for the MovNat course in Mexico in mid-January, and it seemed prudent to get a base layer to make it less likely I would burn in Mexico. Sun burns are what cause the most damage to your skin and most increase your chances of skin cancer. My sessions were purposefully short duration (<7 minutes) and low intensity, and so I needed to do a few of them before I got a noticeable tan.
Healthy Vitamin D levels decrease your overall chances of getting cancer. My reading of the literature indicated that 1) it's extremely difficult to get sufficient Vitamin D from food and even supplements, 2) the deadly forms of skin cancer are more rare than generally thought, 3) they don't seem connected to sun exposure per se (sun burns are the more likely culprit), and 4) and your higher chances of getting skin cancer are far outweighed by the cancers you avoid by getting enough Vitamin D. Use of a tanning bed -- with the right UV frequencies -- has also been shown to increase Vitamin D levels. As for a few more wrinkles as I get older, that seems to be true, but I just don't care. For an excellent overview of what we know about the sun, Vitamin D, and cancer, watch this video by Dr. Michael Holick at BU. (He doesn't endorse tanning.)
My mood improved immediately. I don't know what to say, it just did away with the winter doldrums. The first time I went was in early January in New York City.
Now, would it better to get moderate sun exposure? Yes. Would it be better to have a UV solution in winter that mimicked natural sun light? Yes. Is it a good idea to go to the tanning salon to get burnt to a crisp in 10 minutes? No, of course not.
Who could benefit most from going to the solarium? People with dark skin. Dark-skinned people are adapted for an equatorial environment with enormously high sun exposure all year round. It's as if they are wearing high SPF skin block all the time. They need more sun to generate the same amount of Vitamin D as a fair-skinner person. So black people who live in high latitudes or who live near the equator but are covered up all the time are particularly at risk. Bad news for burqas -- blocking out the sun is causing rickets and osteoporosis in Middle Eastern women. From the abstract:
"Despite ample sunshine, the Middle East (15°-36°N) and Africa (35°S-37°N), register the highest rates of rickets worldwide. This is in large part explained by limited sun exposure due to cultural practices and prolonged breast feeding without vitamin D supplementation in the Middle East, and by dark skin colour and calcium deficiency, rather than vitamin D deficiency, in several countries in Africa. Both regions also have a high prevalence for hypovitaminosis D, the latency disease for osteoporosis, and the main focus of this discussion."
Anyhow, here's to a little experimentation. I'm sure I'll have a few more posts on this taboo subject in the days to come.