Protect yourself from melanoma without becoming deficient in vitamin D
By Leah Johnston, RDN
Don’t be so quick to overlook concerns around melanoma just because it’s often viewed as preventable. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers and the deadliest form of skin cancer. However, there is a conflict between how we prevent melanoma and how we ensure we are getting enough vitamin D. Sun exposure is the main source of this essential vitamin, but it’s also the primary culprit in the formation of melanoma. With May being Melanoma Awareness Month, it’s time to take notice and learn how we can protect our skin while still absorbing enough vitamin D.
Cases of melanoma have been rising over the last few decades, especially among young adults, as it’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer among people aged 25 to 29. According to the Melanoma Research Alliance, one person dies from melanoma every hour of every day. The American Cancer Society reports that the risk for getting melanoma is approximately 2.6% (1 in 38) for whites, 0.1% (1 in 1,000) for Blacks, and 0.6% (1 in 167) for Hispanics. While fair skin poses a higher risk, darker complexions are also at risk.
How Melanoma forms
Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin and give skin its brown or tan color. It’s when melanocytes start to grow out of control on the skin’s top layer that cancer can develop and then spread to other parts of the body. Usually appearing as a brown or black spot or mole, melanoma is most commonly found on the chest and back for men and legs for women. It’s best not to ignore any irregular spots you may find on your skin because this cancer can also appear in other colors or patterns. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or tanning beds can damage DNA in cells and significantly increase the risk of melanoma. Early detection is important for effective treatment.
Tips for melanoma prevention:
- Use a broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen all year when outdoors. This will help protect against sun damage, which can occur even when the sun might be hiding behind a cloud.
- Limit sun exposure during the middle of the day when the UV rays are at their peak. Instead, plan outdoor time for the morning or later afternoon to lessen the risk.
- Opt for a spray tan over laying out by the pool. If you love to have a tan, spray tans are a safer option and will help protect the longevity of your skin.
- Schedule annual skin exams with a dermatologist. This is especially important if you have fair skin or immediate family members who have had melanoma, such as a parent or sibling.
The importance of Vitamin D
What doesn’t vitamin D do? Known as the sunshine vitamin, the human body absorbs an inactive form of vitamin D from the sun, food, or supplements and converts it into an active form of vitamin that it can use. In its active form, vitamin D plays many roles in the body.
Bone Health: Vitamin D and calcium work together to maintain bone health and density. Calcium cannot be absorbed into bones without the help of vitamin D. A vitamin D deficiency can result in bone softening, known as osteomalacia, and muscle weakness. Osteoporosis can also be associated with vitamin D deficiency due to the lack of calcium absorption. Both osteoporosis and melanoma affect older adults making it essential to couple melanoma prevention strategies with vitamin D supplementation.
Immunity: Recently, researchers have been investigating a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. While this research is still in its infancy, scientists have been finding that low vitamin D status may result in the increased severity of symptoms and higher mortality rate. More research is needed in this area.
Inflammation: Research has shown an association between vitamin D status and inflammation-related autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and type 1 diabetes. Vitamin D also helps to regulate insulin levels for diabetes management.
Depression: People with depression are more likely to have low vitamin D levels. A 2011 study found that women who ate more foods rich in vitamin D had a lower risk of depression than women who got less vitamin D in their diets. Vitamin D has also demonstrated the ability to improve the symptoms of depression.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 15 mcg (600 IU) for most children and adults up to the age of 70, according to the National Institutes of Health. Adults who over 70 need 20 mcg (800 IU) daily.
Tips for getting enough Vitamin D:
- Get outside but be strategic. As previously discussed, the best time to be in the sun is in the morning or later afternoon. Plan your days to limit your exposure to the midday sun.
- Add at least one vitamin D rich food into your daily diet. These may include fortified dairy and non-dairy beverages such as milk or orange juice, fortified cereals, salmon (wild caught contains more than farmed), sardines, and egg yolks. Wild mushrooms or those that have been treated with UV light are a good plant source of the vitamin.
- Take a daily Vitamin D supplement. This may be particularly important if you live in regions of the world that are further from the equator, such as the Midwest. If you struggle to remember or don’t enjoy taking pills, NB Pure has a Vitamin D3 supplement in the form of a spray for the utmost convenience.
- Have your doctor check your vitamin D levels at least once a year. Getting an annual physical is important for your long-term health. Ask your doctor to make sure they check your vitamin D levels at that visit.
The sun may be the main reason for the increasing rates of melanoma, but it’s also our number one source of vitamin D. It is possible to protect yourself from developing melanoma and ensure that you are obtaining ample amounts of vitamin D to prevent the consequences of a deficiency.