(NaturalNews) The number of lives saved by people doubling their sun exposure might be 10 times higher than the number of fatal skin cancers that would result, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo, Norway, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Exposure to the ultraviolet radiation from sunlight increases the risk of developing skin cancer, but also increases the body's production of vitamin D. The connection between vitamin D and bone health is well-known, and recent research suggests that a higher vitamin D intake might also provide protection against certain cancers, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D is also believed to help with the proper functioning of the immune system.
"The skin cancer risk is there, but the health benefits from some sun exposure are far larger than the risk," said lead researcher Johan Moan. "What we find is modest sun exposure gives enormous vitamin D benefits."
Vitamin D deficiency is a particular problem at northern latitudes, where the sun is weaker, particularly during the winter. Researchers calculated that in response to the same amount of time spent outdoors, Australians living just south of the equator produce 3.4 times more vitamin D than people living in Britain and 4.8 times more than people living in Scandinavia.
According to Moan, if the general population of Norway doubled the amount of time spent in the sun, approximately 300 more people would die each year from skin cancer, representing twice the current death rate. At the same time, there would be 3,000 fewer deaths from other types of cancer.
"The current data provide a further indication of the beneficial role of sun-induced vitamin D for cancer prognosis," said researcher Richard Setlow, from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Moan recommends that people spend half as much time in the sun each day as it would take them to develop a sunburn.