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A study from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School is showing that Vitamin D may have a much more important role to play than just building stronger bones.

Data collected from 1,500 people over the span of 14 years has shown that those with a Vitamin D deficiency were at a 30% increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those with healthy levels.

The awareness of Vitamin D’s anti-cancer properties dates back to the 1940s when cancer research reported a link between global latitude and deaths from cancer, suggesting that sunlight provided a “relative cancer immunity.”

Since then, a host of studies have confirmed the protective properties of Vitamin D against a variety of cancers including colorectal, oral, breast, stomach and now, pancreatic.

Results from this latest study showed that those with blood levels of at least 50 nmol/L experienced the 30% risk reduction. Those whose levels were either slightly above or just below this amount were protected, as well.

Those with levels significantly below this were exposed to the risk. The study also showed that simply taking more Vitamin D will not gain you more protection, as those with extremely high blood levels received no extra benefit.

There’s a bit more to it than that.

When taking Vitamin D, you must be sure you’re taking D3, not D2. Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, is the naturally-occurring form, similar to what your body makes when sunlight strikes your skin.

Vitamin D is activated by sunlight, so it’s important to get outdoors for 20–30 minutes each day. It won’t do you any good to supplement, then stay in your house or office all day.

It’s also important to remember that the darker your skin, the more sun exposure you’ll need. You’ll also need to be supplementing with a higher dose than those with fair skin. I would not suggest relying on commercial dairy products as a healthy or viable source of Vitamin D, because these foods are highly processed and may contain a number of other questionable ingredients.

What about sunscreen?

As with so much health-related media coverage, the information we’re given about sunscreen is often contradictory and confusing.

On one hand, we’re told that the sun’s rays are damaging and we should protect ourselves from them at all times. Beauty “experts” advise us to never leave the house without sunscreen and prevent the sun from ever touching our skin.
Common sense tells us this is not correct—but so does science.

“The simple truth is everything is good in moderation—and that includes sunshine.”

We know that our bodies need sun to process Vitamin D.

Completely shielding our skin from the sun prevents this from happening, inviting health problems. On the other hand, too much sun does indeed cause premature aging, along with its own health concerns. Adding to the confusion are alternative healthcare authorities who claim that sunscreen actually causes cancer instead of preventing it.

It’s another catch-22.

The simple truth is everything is good in moderation—and that includes sunshine. It is essential for our health and it’s important to get the right amount. About 20–25 minutes of sun exposure each day on unprotected skin is ideal. It’s best if you can receive that exposure on as much of your skin as possible, like your arms, legs, and back, not just your face.

Your body is so efficient at using what it receives, that’s all it needs to do its job. Outside of that, it’s certainly okay to wear sunscreen, and it’s preferred if you’re spending a whole day at the beach or working outdoors.

The key is to choose a product that doesn’t include carcinogenic properties like parabens, phthalates, sulfates and propylene glycol. Finding one can be a challenge, but a good place to start is the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens.

Sunlight is essential to life on earth. Why should we hide ourselves from it so completely? By making thoughtful choices about our sun exposure, we can give our bodies what they need while preventing unnecessary risks.

For more health and inspirational insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit Behiveofhealing.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter, check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN, or for messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram and Twitter @drhabibsadeghi