Omaha Drug Use: Americans Need More Sunshine

There is a growing body of scientific and medical research suggesting that concerns about skin cancer may have been exaggerated and that most Americans, especially Blacks, actually need greater exposure to sunshine and the valuable vitamin D it helps to produce. The most recent in a series of studies was released on Tuesday by the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The researchers used data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to conclude that not getting enough of the so-called “sunshine vitamin” appears to increase the risk of an early death by as much as 26 percent. Johns Hopkins cardiologist Dr. Erin Michos said low levels of vitamin D appear to “confer an increased risk of dying from any cause.”

As far as African Americans are concerned, Jean Mayer of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston concluded in an earlier report: “Vitamin D insufficiency is more prevalent among blacks than other Americans and, in North America, most young, healthy blacks to not achieve optimal” levels of vitamin D from sunshine.

It appears that the gods of Africa gave Blacks perhaps the best protection there is to skin cancer – the dark pigmentation of their skins. However, the same pigmentation which protected the African ancestors of American Blacks from the harmful ultra-violet rays of the hot African sun now works as a disadvantage because it reduces vitamin D production in the skin in the less sunny North American environment.

Studies show the sunshine vitamin offers a broad range of health benefits including boosting bone and muscle strength to offering protection against both cancer and diabetes. The Johns Hopkins study suggested it may also help prevent heart attacks. But Dr. Michos said more clinical studies were needed before that conclusion could be definitively made. Meanwhile, in 2007 a team from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska found that the lower the levels of vitamin D in a woman’s body the greater is the risk of her developing breast cancer.

Vitamin D is actually produced by the skin; but only when it is exposed to sunshine. The valuable vitamin is present in foods including milk, eggs, oily fish, green vegetables and fortified margarines. Nevertheless, the most significant part of the vitamin D need is produced by the skin when it is exposed to sunshine.

Thus, the old saw about “I don’t need to be in the sun because I’m black enough already” may not only reflect a form of self-hatred, it also appears to be medically unsound because the evidence is increasingly strong that modest amounts of sunshine may be nature’s wonder drug. Some experts are defining “modest” as at least 15 minutes of sunshine a day without a sunscreen.

Robert N. Taylor is a researcher and newsletter editor. For more information about this article and other Taylor writings, visit

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