by Stephane Deschênes, Federation of Canadian Naturists
As human beings, we seem to have a need to label things as either good or bad. What we think is good we tend to do to excess. What we think is bad we try to avoid completely or we do it with much guilt.
Alcohol is a good example. In the 20th century, there has been a widely held belief that alcohol is bad. It has been banned, restricted, and shunned in the belief that it causes serious harm to our social, psychological, and physical sides. It is true that when abused, some of the effects of alcohol are relationship problems, liver disease, and even cancer.
The sun is currently being treated in a similar manner. Some studies have shown correlations between sun exposure and skin cancer. Our reaction has been to label the sun as 'bad'.
We now try to avoid it completely. We hide from it. We shun it.
We hear some people and doctors say "There's no such thing as a safe tan" or "A tan is skin damage". Yet we enjoy the sun so much that we still do it. However, we either ignore the issues or feel guilty about it. We try to find solutions, like sunblock, that allow us to continue to enjoy the sun. Unfortunately, once we feel protected, we once again tend to over-expose ourselves. Perhaps like alcohol, the solution lies in moderate use. The sun has many beneficial health effects. We all know that the sun can make us feel happier and more relaxed. There is also some scientific evidence of other benefits:
Vitamin D is essential to good health. Lack of vitamin D is associated with diseases like rickets, osteoporosis, and osteomalacia. Few foods have vitamin D. Attempts have been made to add vitamin D to milk but a US study showed that only 30% of samples tested contained sufficient vitamin D.
Vitamin D has a lifespan of only about one week. The most efficient source of vitamin D is the sun. However, the use of a sunscreen of SPF 8 or more has been shown to inhibit vitamin D production.
Normal indoor lighting does not help cure S.A.D. However, exposure to sunlight does.
Exposure to the sun has been shown to help people with sleep disorders.
Some women can suffer from P.M.S. just prior to their monthly period. The physical symptoms include abdominal bloating and cramping, breast tenderness, fluid retention, and headaches. It can also cause behavioral symptoms which include anxiety, crying spells, depression, fatigue, irritability, and appetite changes. Sun exposure has been shown to reduce P.M.S. in some women.
Psoriasis is a common skin disease which causes bright red dry plaques of skin. It is usually chronic and difficult to treat. However, UV light (present in sunlight) can help reduce the appearance and discomfort of psoriasis.
People who live in areas of the world that get more sunlight have been shown to have a lower death rate from ovarian, breast and colon cancers. One researcher even suggested that recent increases in some cancers may be due, in part, to sunlight deprivation.
People with outdoor occupations have been shown to have lower incidence of melanoma. It was also observed that melanoma seldom occurs on areas of the skin that get regular sun exposure. However, it is important to note that this is true only of moderate sun exposure in those who are able to develop a tan.
Can you believe it? Some studies have shown that malignant melanoma is inhibited by vitamin D and sun exposure.
You might wonder why all this information isn't more widely available. All we hear about are the dangers of skin cancer. The reality is that the sun has no lobby group. There is no profit from the sun and as such, no funds or groups to promote it. (There is one exception in the small indoor-tanning industry.)
Promoting the dangers of skin cancer is a very profitable strategy for the sun-block industry. It is estimated to be a five billion dollar industry. I'm not suggesting that there is a conspiracy to hide the truth. I'm only saying that one side of the debate has a huge financial advantage in promoting its message. In a society where money talks, this message has become the only one heard.
However, some evidence that the sun may not be as bad as suggested continues to show up. Not long ago, the British Medical Journal, a publication which is very well respected around the world, published an article which suggested that moderate exposure to the sun may be beneficial. A recent study by Dr. Micheal Holick from the Boston University School of Medicine concludes that the vitamin D generated by moderate sunshine exposure helps to ward off several debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases such as osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and colon, prostate and breast cancer.
Certainly, the sun can have negative effects. Anything can when abused. Excessive exposure and sunburn can cause health problems and great discomfort. It is also clear that skin cancer is on the rise. However, I think we have been guilty in the past of abusing the sun.
So is the sun bad or is it good? My answer is a definite "yes".
Naturism and the Sun
By itself, the removal of a skimpy bathing suit does little to increase our exposure to the sun. We define naturism as "a way of life in harmony with nature", characterized by the practice of communal nudity, with the intention of encouraging respect for oneself, respect for others and for the environment." That respect includes living with nature and not abusing it. The sun, like all parts of nature, should be respected. Our bodies were built to take what we need from nature. If we try to abuse nature and take too much, we get sick. If we live within nature, as we were intended, we thrive.
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The Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN) and the Fédération québécoise de naturisme (FQN) share the Canadian membership in the International Naturist Federation (INF), which has its world headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium.