Sunlight, health and cancer

The more you read, the more holes you find in many theories.

The more you read, the more holes you find in many theories.

Increasing sunlight exposure increases an individuals health and decreases cancer risk. In the last year or two I remember reading a quote from a professor of dermatology at a university in the U.S. who stated, “ There is no amount of sun that is good for the skin.” Clearly said professor skipped basic biology in secondary school or has had a lifetime of examining patients with excess PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) in their diet, which is associated with increased incidence of skin cancer (there’s also a hopeful possibility that he was quoted out of context but I live in hope). Sun and skin cancer are clearly linked. Or are they? It doesn’t appear so clear cut. I first became interested in light around 2009 and its benefits to health after reading Female Hormones in Context by Ray Peat. His suggestions that sunlight can, “cure depression, improve immunity, stimulate our metabolism, while decreasing food cravings and increase our intelligence, ” (Peat, 1997) intrigued me to gain a deeper understanding.Whilst I was aware of the harms of an excess of UV light, which can damage skin but is essential for increasing vitamin D levels. The far-reaching benefits of the spectrum of red and orange lights were unbeknownst to me.

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is well documented and the mechanisms may be due to a number of factors such as increases in serotonin and melatonin. People generally get sicker and more depressed in winter and light therapy appears to be a useful tool in overcoming some of the symptoms associated with mood, energy and immune system related issues. If light is so harmful, why is it we often need more in these times and why has sunlight become so vilified?

Sunlight appears to get a bad rap in an ever increasingly reductionist causal relationship, in as much as sunlight causes skin cancer. Therefore wear sunscreen and avoid it. However current literature suggestions are along the lines of; “Wearing sunscreen increases sun exposure and increases incidence of melanoma and skin cancer.” Like many other approaches this A to B inference neglects to mention other pertinent mechanisms that can be attributed to increased incidence of cancerous states.

Cancer is a well known metabolic disease that can occur when specific effects to cells, namely mitochondria and the electron transport chain (ETC - often termed respiratory defects which allows problematic features of metabolism to occur, increasing damaging compounds). Cancer can be a feature of poor differentiation. Damage to tissues can often require new tissue to be formed. If an architect informs the site manager how to build the structure from just the blueprints without appreciation of the surrounding land and features, you can’t always guarantee success of completion.

Promoting better conversations between structures     

Vitamin A - promotes cell differentiation (this is very important when damaged tissue is rebuilt), improves immune system function and optimal hormone function. A meta analysis in 2016 highlighted vitamin A’s protective functions and usefulness in protection against skin related disease such as melanoma through inhibiting malignant transformation and decreasing tumour size and improving survival rates (Zhang, Chu, & Liu, 2014). It’s important to note that retinol from liver sources is the effective compound in this action and not carotenoids. Other findings such as anaemia are synergistic with decreased vitamin A levels due to its critical role in the immune system and fighting infection (Semba & Bloem, 2002). Vitamin A has similar actions to organisational compounds such as progesterone and thyroid.

A question worth exploring - Does a vitamin A deficiency decrease differentiation and lead to a potential increase in cancerous type states when exposed to UV light?


Estrogen has been implicated in many cancerous states, primarily due to its role in tissue proliferation. When unchecked by levels of progesterone, it can be responsible for unwanted tissue growth and mutagenicity (Mungenast & Thalhammer, 2014) (Troisi et al., 2014). Levels can be increased due to external sources in the environment and through increased conversion of testosterone in adipose tissue to estrogen via aromatase in both men and women (Skakkebæk, 2003)(Cargouët, Bimbot, Levi, & Perdiz, 2006). The potential increases in cancerous states such as melanoma due to modulation of estrogen might be an easy target for excess levels of U.V. light to exert a negative influence in susceptible tissues. Therefore keeping estrogen low and utilising estrogen lowering strategies through food choices and avoidance of certain compounds can be useful.

Fat status of tissues.

I often found that when my diet was high in unsaturated fats my skin burnt extremely quickly. It’s been noted that people who often use sunblock often burn much quicker when in the sun without sunscreen. Increased consumption of unsaturated fatty acids appear to be linked to an increase in melanoma (Bourne, Mackie, & Curtin, 1987). Anecdotally I found that with a large decrease in PUFA my skin tolerates much longer bouts of sunshine before burning (not bad for a semi ginger pasty bloke from Kent!) , even in the intense middle-eastern heat. High fat diets, whether un/saturated also decrease mitochondrial activity and lower oxidative metabolism (Titov et al., 2016). It’s well known that vegetable oil consumption is linked to cancer (Niknamian, S., Kalamian, 2016) and heated vegetable oils that enter the body are already oxidised causing additional inflammation.

Perhaps melanoma is substantially increased when an individual has increased estrogen exposure, excessive amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in the skin and vitamin A deficiency but does that still implicate sunlight as the cause of skin cancer? The A to B scenario hopefully seems less convincing.

Modulating estrogen and decreasing PUFA in the skin is a step in the right direction. Increasing skin tolerance for longer days in the sun will be beneficial for many people. Using a homemade sun screen with minimal PUFA in can be useful for those wanting to spend extra time in the sun without damaging the skin and of course depending on the latitude, avoiding peak sun times is prudent to avoid excess UV light.

More information on resolving these issues can be found in the member’s area.


Bourne, D. J., Mackie, L. E., & Curtin, L. D. (1987). Melanoma and Dietary Lipids. Nutrition and Cancer, 9(4), 219–226. http://doi.org/10.1080/01635588709513930

Cargouët, M., Bimbot, M., Levi, Y., & Perdiz, D. (2006). Xenoestrogens modulate genotoxic (UVB)-induced cellular responses in estrogen receptors positive human breast cancer cells. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 22(1), 104–112. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.etap.2006.01.002

Mungenast, F., & Thalhammer, T. (2014). Estrogen biosynthesis and action in ovarian cancer. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 5(NOV). http://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2014.00192

Niknamian, S., Kalamian, M. (2016). Vegetable Oils Consumption as One of the Leading Cause of Cancer and Heart disease. International Science and Investigation Journal, 5(5).

Peat, R. (1997). From PMS to Menopause: Female Hormones in context.

Semba, R. D., & Bloem, M. W. (2002). The anemia of vitamin a deficiency: Epidemiology and pathogenesis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://doi.org/10.1038/sj/ejcn/1601320

Skakkebæk, N. E. (2003). Testicular dysgenesis syndrome. In Hormone Research (Vol. 60, p. 49). http://doi.org/10.1159/000074499

Titov, D. V., Cracan, V., Goodman, R. P., Peng, J., Grabarek, Z., & Mootha, V. K. (2016). Complementation of mitochondrial electron transport chain by manipulation of the NAD+/NADH ratio. Science, 352(6282), 231–235. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad4017

Troisi, R., Ganmaa, D., Silva, I. D. S., Davaalkham, D., Rosenberg, P. S., Rich-Edwards, J., … Alemany, M. (2014). The role of hormones in the differences in the incidence of breast cancer between Mongolia and the United Kingdom. PLoS ONE, 9(12). http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114455

Zhang, Y.-P., Chu, R.-X., & Liu, H. (2014). Vitamin A intake and risk of melanoma: a meta-analysis. PloS One, 9(7), e102527. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102527

Coconut oil, its protective effects both cellular and shellular.

Image-1 (2)I have written many times on why saturated fats have many proven benefits over unsaturated fats and the risk they pose. This blog is a brief summary of how and why coconut oil can be used for both cellular and shellular (ok I made that word up and yes my drawing sucks!). http://balancedbodymind.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/why-are-polyunsaturated-oils-so-dangerous/ One of the many problems associated with vegetable, nut and seed oils is their double carbon bond, which is pictured below and explains why these oils become problematic when aged or of most importance, when they become heated during cooking. Their propensity to cause inflammation and significant health issues is well documented and for further reading, please read the work of Ray Peat PhD.

molecular structure

Coconut oil has many advantages over so called essential fatty acids. 1. It doesn't have the issues associated with cooking at high temperatures and instability. 2. It is readily used by the mitochondria or energy producing cells without the need for carnitine, which is used to transport fatty acids into the cell. 3. It provides structural cellular protection.

Many bloggers and health advocates have touted the use of coconut oil as a form of sun block. That's fine, if you are of darker skin, where you are already protected from the suns harmful ultraviolet rays but if lighter skinned, here's the huge fail that you may have experienced. Coconut oil despite it's protective nature will burn fair skinned people, to which some of my friends have found out the hard way. However coconut oil can still be protective even for fair skinned people when used correctly and here's how.

You may have found that when using regularly sun block, you now often burn quicker with less sun exposure. There are two reasons why this may happen.

1. The sunblock that you use often contains vegetable oils as recepient of the zinc oxide and allows it to soak into your skin. 2. Your diet is high in vegetable and seed oils, nuts, green vegetables and foods high in PUFA's. Ever notice brown pigmentation spots on the skin too? The use of coconut oil should be applied post sun and also at night as a natural moisturiser of the skin. Applying coconut oil in conjunction with lowering the amount of PUFA's consumed in your diet and to avoid using sunblock. You should gradually introduce your time of exposure in the sun. Staying in the sun for long periods of time will ultimately age the skin but using these guidlines will help you to tolerate the suns ray's and gain the essential, hormone like Vitamin D and healing red rays.

When spending longer periods of time in the sun and for children. My friend Eric Lepine has devised this useful home made sunblock that doesn't have the PUFA's often found in commercial products. To make it he recommends the following.

½ ounce of organic beeswax 2 ounces of coconut oil 2 ounces of shea butter one capsule of Unique E (for extra antioxidizing properties; for women, I've even had them use Progest-E, for similar effect, plus the added bonus of the progesterone).

2 TBS of micronized zinc oxide (at that concentration, it will be about 20% of total volume, and should confer an SPF of about 30). The micronized version will have you avoid the zombie/pasty white look. You can opt for the non-micronized version if you prefer though.

Just melt the first three ingredient one at a time, progressively, waiting until the preceding one has completely melted before adding the next one. Once the first 3 ingredients are melted, squeeze the vitamin E capsule into the melted mixture, followed by the zinc oxide powder (if using micronized zinc oxide, use caution while mixing it in. While its safety is well-proven when it comes to topical use, the safety issues with micronized powders arise from the risks associated with breathing in the fine particles. The risk is likely mostly a matter of how often one is exposed to these fine particles but, extra precaution is always warranted). Mix well using a whisk. Transfer to a small pot with a large opening before the mixture solidifies (small mason jar or something similar). The mixture might need one last good mixing once it solidifies so, preferably, the container should have enough space to allow for this without making too much of a mess.

It's time for sunlight to get the credit it deserves for promoting health and stops being demonised. It's free, it's much better than poorly produced vitamin D supplements and an essential part of life. So if you need to use a block for longer periods. Try the one above or at least spend time getting used to sun light without the vegetable oils.

Why are polyunsaturated fats and oils so dangerous?

Polyunsaturated fats/ fatty acids or PUFAs have been suggested as being a safe food source for many years and many have even touted as being protective for the heart. Saturated fats have been outcast as the villain as the marketing purse of seed manufacturers often outweighed the gain that could be had by the protective more stable fats of coconut and palm oils.

Because the molecular structure of PUFA’s are less stable than saturated fats when heated they become carcinogenic.  Many studies favoured by the seed industry have favoured the analysis of so called good and bad cholesterol or LDL’s and HDL’s as a marker for the so called healthy effect of vegetable and seed oils.  A factor overlooked as part of this education is that high HDL levels can be interpreted as an auto immune process in action and cancerous states can be correlated with high HDL levels.  Heat alone will not cause PUFA’s to become unstable, overtime these oils can become rancid and when consumed cause lipid peroxidation . Think of all those warehouses of nuts that have been sitting around for months or years before being consumed, which are then often roasted and the PUFA’s within them oxidised.

The problem is that when all of these oils are consumed they cause the production of Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS and lipid peroxidation which causes large amounts of stress to cellular DNA which can be responsible for genetic mutations which can lead to aging, cell destruction and cancers. Ray Peats work on the damage caused by PUFA’s is very well documented.

Many commercially consumed foods such as tortilla chips (which mostly are derived from genetically engineered crops that have been covered in harmful pesticides) have been fried in these oils causing a dabble whammy of oxidative stress and insult to the human organism. People often think that by eating healthily they are able to not worry about small details such as fats and have often been falsely convinced that butter/ghee/ coconut and palm oils and that, high fat diets are the causative link in heart disease and heart attacks.

From a skin health perspective, unstable fats such as PUFA in the skin may be problematic when exposed to excess amounts of ultraviolet light. This recent blog explains the mechanisms.

Dealing with ridding the body of dangerous PUFA’s stored in body fat stores can be achieved with the right diet plan and ameliorating the dangerous effects of lipid peroxidation can be achieved with supplementation such as Vitamin E, B’s,  Asprin  and others.   Below I have highlighted a list of oils  that are ideal for cooking with and the others should be avoided.  To find out more about restoring your body to optimal health please get in touch. Balanced Body Mind

Approximate polyunsaturated fats/fatty acids- PUFA content of various oils and fats:  (taken fromIntegrative/med)

Evening Primrose oil (81% PUFA) Hemp oil (80% PUFA) Flax oil (72% PUFA) Grapeseed oil (71% PUFA) Chia oil (70% PUFA) Safflower oil (75% PUFA) Sunflower oil (65% PUFA) Perilla oil (63% PUFA) Corn oil (59% PUFA) Soybean oil (58% PUFA) Pumpkin oil (57% PUFA) Walnut oil (55-63% PUFA) Cottonseed oil (50% PUFA) Sesame oil (41-45% PUFA) Canola oil (30-37% PUFA) Rice bran oil (36% PUFA) Beech nut oil (32% PUFA) Peanut oil (29-32% PUFA) Pecan oil (29% PUFA) Brazil nut oil (24-36% PUFA, 24% SAFA) Pistachio oil (19% PUFA) Cashew oil (17% PUFA, 20% SAFA) Almond oil (17% PUFA, 8% SAFA) Duck fat (13% PUFA, 1% cholesterol)                 Use but try to go for safer oils below Lard (12% PUFA, 41% SAFA, 1% cholesterol)  Use but try to go for safer oils below Filbert oil (10-16% PUFA) Avocado oil (10% PUFA) Macadamia oil (10% PUFA, 15% SAFA)

Safe cooking oils Goose fat (10% PUFA, 1% cholesterol) Palm oil (8% PUFA, 50% SAFA) Olive oil (8% PUFA, 14% SAFA) Butter (4% PUFA, 50% SAFA) Ghee (4% PUFA, 48% SAFA, 2% cholesterol) Cocoa Butter (3% PUFA, 60% SAFA) Coconut oil (2-3% PUFA, 92% SAFA, 0% cholesterol) Palm kernel oil (2% PUFA, 82% SAFA)