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The benefits and perils of sunshine

The benefits and perils of sunshine 'Enjoy the sun, safely'

Despite the importance of sunshine to our well being, scientists are urging people to limit exposure, as it can lead to skin cancer.

Exposure to the sun's rays leads the body to create vitamin D, which is essential for good bone health, and may have a protective effect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases.

However, scientists say that evidence about the health benefits of vitamin D is inconclusive, while the link between sunburn and skin cancer and melanoma is well established.

Ed Yong, head of health information and evidence at Cancer Research UK, said: "While some sunshine is good for us and vitamin D is important for good bone health, the evidence suggesting that vitamin D protects against other disease such as cancer or heart disease is inconclusive.

"By enjoying the sun safely, people can make enough vitamin D without increasing their risk of skin cancer."

A consensus statement on the latest evidence on vitamin D has been issued with the unified views of the British Association of Dermatologists, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Heart Forum, the National Osteoporosis Society and the Primary Care Dermatology Society.

The joint statement said people should "enjoy the sun safely and take care not to burn, helping to ensure the benefits of vitamin D can be enjoyed without the risk of skin cancer being raised unnecessarily."

It recommended dietary modifications during winter time to boost vitamin D levels, but added that food fortification with vitamin D is not advocated at this stage, given the lack of evidence about its effectiveness.

This article was published on Fri 17 December 2010

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