Lessons Learned from Paleolithic Models and Evolution for Human Health: A Snap Shot on Beneficial Effects and Risks of Solar Radiation

Jörg Reichrath
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 2020, 1268: 3-15
How to deal with the powerful rays of the sun represents a fundamental question of environmental medicine, affecting skin cancer prevention campaigns and many other aspects of public health. However, when preparing recommendations for sunlight exposure, physicians, scientists, and other health authorities are in a dilemma, because solar radiation exerts both positive and negative effects on human health. While positive effects are at least in part mediated via the UV(Ultraviolet)-B-induced cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D, negative effects include the UV-mediated photocarcinogenesis of skin cancer. During the last century, interest in the positive effects of the sun on our health increased dramatically after the introduction of the so-called vitamin D/cancer hypothesis. In the late 1930s, Peller and Stephenson reported higher rates of skin cancer but lower rates of other cancers among the US Navy personnel. Several years later, Apperly reported an association between latitude and cancer mortality rate in North America. He argued that the "relative immunity to cancer is a direct effect of sunlight". Although the hypothesis that sun exposure may be beneficial against cancer had been proposed early, these observations supporting the hypothesis were ignored for nearly 40 years, until a clear mechanism was proposed. In the 1980s, Garland and Garland published a pilot study focusing on colon cancer and suggested that the possible benefits of sun exposure could be attributed to vitamin D. Later, the proposed protective role of vitamin D was extended to many other types of cancer. Subsequent laboratory investigations supported potential anti-carcinogenic effects of vitamin D compounds. We know today that many, but not all, of the positive effects of the sun on human health are mediated by the UV-induced cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D and other photoproducts. However, because of the abovementioned dilemma, there is an ongoing controversial discussion in scientific communities and in the general population that how much sunlight is optimal for human health. This chapter summarizes the content of the third edition of "Sunlight, Vitamin D and Skin Cancer," a book specifically designed and organized to be an up-to-date review covering the most important aspects of the ongoing debate on how much sun is good for human health and how to balance between the positive and negative effects of solar and artificial UV-radiation, including lessons learned from Paleolithic models and evolution .

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