Tanning Salons Are Good For You?

Let’s start off by acknowledging one obvious fact.  Humans require sunlight to be healthy.  In the absence of supplementation, sunlight is required in order for humans to get vitamin D.  Humans have evolved to spend extended periods outdoors exposed to sunlight.  The only culture I’m aware of that has managed to survive extended periods without sunlight, yet still retain some of their health, are the Inuit Eskimos.

In the case of Eskimos eating a traditional diet, they happen to get just enough vitamin D from fermented fatty fish and whale blubber.  The fermented blubber they eat decomposes into a source of rich carbohydrates and contains most of the nutrients they require. It is not a ketogenic diet. Eskimos also seem to have biological adaptations that help them to accommodate this diet, but they still have high rates of cardiovascular disease. Setting fermented fatty fish and blubber aside, there are no other natural food sources that are capable of providing humans the vitamin D they require without industrial fortification.

Given the fact that humans, in their natural state eating a non-fortified diet, require sunlight to be healthy; doesn’t it strike you as odd that something which we require is supposedly a potential killer?  It’s certainly enough to make me question the current dogma about skin cancer, tanning and sun exposure.

Most humans have been working in outdoor agricultural jobs for all of recorded human history. In 1870, fully half of the entire US population worked an agricultural job.  By 1950, that number had declined to 1/5th, but that’s still an enormous chunk of the population.  Today, the number is around 1 or 2%. Given that extreme shift in demographics, isn’t it prudent to ask ourselves if skin cancer rates declined during the mass exodus from farms to factories?  If sun exposure is supposedly the culprit behind skin cancer, then certainly we should expect skin cancer rates to decline, right?

Well, they certainly have not declined.  In fact, there’s an inverse association between skin cancer and sun exposure when we look at long timelines over the entire population.  Skin cancer rates have been skyrocketing since the 1970s. If we look at melanoma, it’s up from 7.89 per 100,000 in 1970 to 23.57 by 2010.  Sunscreen use is up, sun exposure is down, yet skin cancer rates keep climbing.  In fact, some studies suggest sunscreen use may actually be a risk factor for melanoma.

People in the early 1900s had exponentially lower rates of skin cancer than we do today, yet they also spent exponentially more time outdoors than we do today.  I think this conundrum deserves some attention.

The only reason scientists say skin cancer is linked to sun exposure is because when they compare groups of people who work outdoors to people who work indoors, the outdoor workers have 2 to 3 times the incidence rates of basal (BCC) and squamous (SCC) cell cancers.  Scientists also see a higher incidence of those skin cancers in people with obvious sun damage to their skin.  And we also know that UV exposure can suppress the immune system.  However, what I find even more interesting from that same study is that people who work indoors have higher rates of melanoma than those who work outdoors.

I think the evidence is clear that sun exposure is one part of a complex process that leads to BCC and SCC type cancers developing.  However, it cannot be the only part, and I find it doubtful that it’s even a main part in that process.  As we can see from the other studies I linked, as sun exposure has decreased, all types of skin cancer have increased.  Further, we know that people who have no sun exposure at all can end up developing any of the three types of skin cancer.  So sun exposure is not a requirement for the development of skin cancer.

The data against sun exposure being a primary driver of melanoma is even more compelling.  The most common place for melanoma to develop is on the back, which is typically not an area exposed to sunlight.  And, as I just mentioned, we know that people who work indoors have a higher incidence of melanoma than those who work outdoors, and that sunscreen use seems to increase the risk of developing melanoma.

So what the hell is going on?

Well, I believe I know the answer.  It’s an answer that no one wants to hear.  

Check this statistic out:

Stage IIIA (regionally metastasized) melanoma:
  • 39% alive after 5 years (typical diet and conventional treatments)
  • 82% alive after 5 years (switching to plant based diet with no conventional treatments)

Here’s a couple research papers to back that claim.(1)(2)

To quote T. Colin Campbell:

KF: Are you saying that if one changes their diet from animal based protein to plant-based protein that the disease process of cancer can be halted and reversed?

TCC: Yes, this is what our experimental research shows. I also have become aware of many anecdotal claims by people who have said that their switch to a plant-based diet stopped even reversed (cured?) their disease. One study on melanoma has been published in the peer-reviewed literature that shows convincing evidence that cancer progression is substantially halted with this diet.

That’s right.  You can tan all day long and not get melanoma, but only if you are eating a plant based diet and refrain from drinking.  There are reports of people actually curing melanoma with a vegan diet. I know a friend who developed melanoma before the age of 40 on his back and he had no sun exposure at all; however, he did drink heavily and eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).

From the research I’ve looked at, I believe melanoma is primarily caused by alcohol along with meat and dairy consumption.  Americans eat twice as much meat per person today than they did during the 1930s.  The epidemiological studies that link skin cancer to tanning beds rarely control for these risk factors, yet we know that alcohol is linked to skin cancer; and we know people, especially teens, who frequently use tanning beds have higher rates of binge drinking.  I’d wager that if alcohol and meat consumption were both controlled for, tanning bed use would show a decreased risk of skin cancer.

Men over 50 are more than twice as likely as women to develop and die from skin cancer.  That’s not because men spend more time sunning themselves, I believe it’s because men eat nearly twice as much meat on average compared to women, men are twice as likely to binge drink and nearly twice as likely to be alcoholics.

Here’s one study that shows people who eat the most meat were at nearly twice the risk of developing SCC, while those who ate the most green leafy vegetables were at half the risk.  The same study found no association between BCC and meat, which leads me to this study which shows a positive association between BCC and liquor/wine consumption.  There’s also an association between alcohol and more aggressive forms of BCC. Which leads me to this study that shows a 55% increased risk of melanoma for heavy drinkers.

The type of tanning bed used also plays a role.  High powered beds have very low UVB compared to UVA, which leads to minimal vitamin D production.  This factor is also never controlled for in these studies.

Here’s a list of skin cancer death rates by country.  Notice that middle eastern countries, where Islam prohibits alcohol consumption, have some of the lowest death rates, even though they have some of the highest sun exposure.  The lowest on the list is India (India is also low for all types of cancers), where Buddhism discourages meat consumption.  On average, Indians eat 5 kg of meat annually per person vs.125 kg in the US.  Further, fully 47% of Indians work in agriculture.  Obviously the darker skin on average plays a role with the low numbers, but even taking that into consideration, the evidence is compelling.

One country happens to have off-the-charts rates of skin cancer deaths.  It looks like New Zealanders are dropping like flies from skin cancer.  New Zealand is also number 2 in per-capita meat consumption and number 31 in alcohol consumption.  That’s what happens when you have a predominantly white population with massive meat and alcohol consumption, combined with a sunny climate.  Oh, one other factor for cancer is obesity.  Compare this map of obesity rates to the skin cancer map.

BCC and SCC are more common than melanoma, but I’d wager that a plant based diet would also protect against them as well, given that people have been out working fields for hundreds of thousands of years yet not dying of skin cancer.  Also, the other types of skin cancer are almost never fatal, almost never spread, and they grow very slowly so they are easily cured.  Basal and Squamous cell cancers are barely worth worrying about compared to the host of problems that can result from a lack of Sun exposure.

Just use your own judgment for a minute.  Do people with a tan look healthier?  Of course they do.  Do people with a tan look more attractive?  Of course they do.  So the question is why?  Why are humans naturally programmed to view tan people as being more attractive if having a tan puts you at risk of dying from cancer?  I’m a firm believer that nature does not make mistakes like that.  We are all supposed to have a tan from adequate sun exposure, and we are not supposed to die of cancer because of it.