So You're a Sun Worshipper But Worry About Skin Cancer ... Here's What You Need to Know
Eighty years ago, when sun exposure was first associated with skin cancer, popular culture was exalting tanning by emphasizing that a “fine brown color suggests health and good times and is a pleasant thing to see."
We know that sun exposure can be deadly and today’s public awareness campaigns strongly focus on sun avoidance to prevent skin cancer. But we also know that sunlight is important to our health and plays a role in many biological processes in our bodies.
In fact, some physicians and scientists are taking a closer look at sunlight to expose the lesser known benefits of ultraviolet (UV) light.
What is UV Light?
When we are talking about the dangerous component of sunlight, we are really talking UV light. UV light is ionizing radiation, meaning that it frees electrons from atoms or molecules, causing chemical reactions. UV light is divided into three categories listed in order of increasing energy: UVA, UVB, UVC.
UVC is the most harmful, but the ozone layer and other components of the atmosphere filter all of it out before it reaches us. That’s also the case for a large percentage of UVB light. But nearly all UVA light reaches the Earth’s surface.
Both latitude and season play large factors in our individual exposure to UV radiation. Countries farthest from the equator during winter months receive the least amount of UV radiation, while equatorial countries receive the most.
UV Light Causes Chemical Reactions in the Body
Unlike visible light, the energy from UV radiation can be absorbed by molecules in our body, causing chemical reactions. When the energy from UV radiation is absorbed by DNA, it can cause reactions that lead to genetic mutations. Some of these mutations can lead to the development of skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the U.S. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma (one of the deadliest cancers) are all associated with UV light exposure.
However, not all chemical reactions that UV light induces are harmful. In fact, some of them are beneficial. For instance, we can get vitamin D from eating certain plants and animals, but a main source of vitamin D comes from exposure to UV radiation.
Vitamin D is critical to maintaining bone density by increasing calcium absorption in the gut. Chronically low levels of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis. Apart from its effects on bone, vitamin D has also been shown to improve balance and muscle strength in the elderly, which decreases the number of falls leading to fracture.
UV light induces the body to synthesize other molecules as well, including opioid-like molecules thought to cause a tanning “high."
UV Decreases Cancer Mortality
Research suggests that the risk of developing lung, prostate, breast, colorectal and pancreatic cancer may be decreased by sun exposure. This protective effect against cancer is most pronounced in sunny countries. While smaller studies of colorectal and prostate cancer have conflicted with this finding, many studies support a beneficial relationship between sun exposure and internal cancers and it has been suggested that the risks associated with sun exposure may be outweighed by its ability to prevent certain types of internal cancers.
Sunlight may also improve cancer outcomes. The prognosis for patients diagnosed in summer and fall is better than those diagnosed in winter and total sun exposure prior to diagnosis is a predictor of survival.
Given the relationship between sun exposure and vitamin D production, it was initially thought that vitamin D was the underlying cause for improved cancer outcomes. Unfortunately, data to support this are still lacking. Initial trials of vitamin D supplementation have failed to demonstrate a benefit on cancer prevention, which has led researchers to believe that this benefit is from the effects of UV radiation.
UV Light Decreases Blood Pressure and Inflammation
UV exposure positively affects blood pressure as well. People living in countries in higher latitudes with less UV exposure have higher blood pressures at baseline than countries receiving more sunlight. This effect is also seasonal, as more UV exposure in summer results in lower blood pressure.
And clinical trials have proven UVB radiation effectively treats patients with mild hypertension. It was thought that vitamin D was the cause for decreased blood pressure, but follow-up trials proved this effect was due to UVB exposure alone.
Some chemical reactions caused by UV light are known to have anti-inflammatory effects in the skin. Immune cells living in the skin can stop functioning, migrate out of the skin or undergo cell death following exposure to UV radiation. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, UV light can be used to effectively treat inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
Protection Against Autoimmune Conditions
On a larger scale, certain autoimmune conditions are more common in countries with less UV exposure. For instance, there is a higher prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) in Scandinavian countries.
In MS, immune cells attack the insulation around nerve cells in the brain, ultimately leading to nerve damage. While lack of vitamin D is a leading hypothesis for how MS develops, studies have also shown that lack of sun exposure may be an independent risk factor for nerve damage.
Of Course, Sunlight Has a Dark Side
In addition to skin cancer, UV radiation also causes photoaging. UVA radiation penetrates deep into the skin, destroying collagen, which leads to wrinkles and skin thinning. Also, some autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, flare in response to UV radiation. UV radiation can also affect the eye, causing cataracts.
So, how can you maximize the benefits of sun exposure while minimizing your risk of skin cancer and aging? The key is to practice safe sun habits, which means using sunscreen and avoiding sunburns. This will decrease photoaging and more importantly, your risk of skin cancer. Also, vitamin D is most effectively synthesized at UV radiation doses below those causing sunburn.
Several factors, including your skin type, latitude, longitude and weather, play into your overall UV exposure. This means different amounts of time in the sun for different people. People living in California may need only brief sun exposure on a cloudless day for adequate vitamin D production. This differs for places like Boston, where there aren’t adequate amounts of UV radiation from November to February. Skin type becomes important because melanin, which gives skin its pigment, effectively blocks UV radiation. This means darker-skinned people need more UV exposure for adequate vitamin D production than lighter-skinned people.
There are online tools that let you calculate how much time you should spend in the sun to achieve adequate levels of vitamin D without causing sunburn. If you think you aren’t getting enough sun exposure or you live somewhere with long winters, check with your doctor to see if you are vitamin D deficient.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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