We Are Sunshine

Vitamin D featured in the Washington Post and ABC’s 20/20

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Vitamin D scientists told The Washington Post and ABC News this weekend that humans need a lot more vitamin D than we’re currently getting, and that our sun-avoiding ways are primarily responsible for epidemic levels of vitamin D deficiency.

2008-07-08-prime-time-d-tanningnews-copy.jpg“It feels kind of ridiculous working in this field sometimes,” Dr. Reinhold Vieth, a professor of nutritional sciences and pathobiology at the University of Toronto, told The Washington Post, expressing his frustration that governments aren’t getting on board with the vitamin D story despite massive new data. “Every week, I get interviewed about the next important publication about Vitamin D. But this field remains mired in the muck.”

Perhaps partially responsible for the slow reception to vitamin D:

Dermatology’s lobbying groups, who have for years advocated anti-sun policies that now appear to be causing vitamin D deficiency. Despite now-massive evidence to the contrary, dermatology’s chief lobbying group continues to hammer away at their old-school assertion that people should still avoid the sun and should not get any sun exposure to make vitamin D.

UVB from sunlight is the most natural and intended source of vitamin D.

“We’re in the middle of a skin cancer epidemic,” C. William Hanke, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, told The Washington Post. “Tanning is risky and dangerous behavior. Ultraviolet light is classified as a carcinogen. We need to protect our skin.”

But are Hanke and AAD exaggerating in order to make their point?

“I wish you’d look up the meaning of the word epidemic in your Oxford English Dictionary,” Temple University Dermatology and Photobiology Professor Dr. Fred Urbach — considered a pioneer in the field of UV photobiology — told a lobbying group from the American Academy of Dermatology in 1995 when AAD first started calling melanoma an “epidemic.” Urbach, now deceased, pointed out to AAD’s lobbying team that epidemics are things that happen suddenly and affect more than half of the population, while reported melanoma incidence has been increasing since the 1930s — primarily in older men.

Also confounding Hanke’s “epidemic” assertion: Melanoma mortality rates have declined in the past 20 years for most demographics except older men, leading some to say that dermatology’s assertion of an increase in the disease is caused mainly by simply diagnosing more lesions that we didn’t used to detect.

Hanke also refers to UV light as a “carcinogen” — despite the fact that the government’s classification of UV as a carcinogen does not take into account the dosage of UV required to increase risk. “That means that the government considers sunburn a carcinogen, but it does not mean that tanning in a non-burning fashion is a risk factor,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “For Hanke to call any and all UV carcinogenic is like saying that people should avoid water because water causes drowning. It’s a distortion of the science made for political purposes.”

To read the Post’s whole story click here.