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Vitamin D Pills vs. Tanning Beds

A reclassification of tanning beds as a category 1 carcinogen underscores the importance of vitamin D supplementation for those at risk for deficiency.

December 27, 2010 |
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As I’ve noted in previous volumes, vitamin D deficiency remains a major problem. Even if every day we do go outside and get 15-30 minutes of mid-day sun, the majority of North America is at such a high latitude that during the winter months the sun’s rays are at such an angle that it’s necessary to supplement our diet with this sunshine vitamin. There’s been a suggestion, though, that instead of taking pills it’s preferable to go to a tanning salon. Well, a major review on just that topic was, just published. What do you think they found?
Tanning beds for vitamin D: Harmful, harmless, or helpful? Harmful. Last Summer the World Health Organization raised the carcinogen classification of tanning beds to the highest level. With evidence showing that tanning bed exposure can raise the risk of the deadliest kind of skin cancer by up to 75%, the International Agency for Research on Cancer bumped tanning beds up to a category 1 carcinogen, along with things like asbestos, cigarettes, and arsenic.
OK, more skin cancer, but wouldn’t the vitamin D you produce lower your risk of internal cancers so much that it would all balance out like it does with moderate sun exposure?
The light produced by the sun is not the same as the light produced by tanning beds. Most tanning devices primarily emit UVA, which is relatively ineffective in stimulating vitamin D synthesis. So the health benefits can be fully dissacociated from the risks with vitamin D supplementation for those unwilling or unable to get enough sunshine.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on vitamin D. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts:  Aspartame: Fibromyalgia & Preterm Birth and Vitamin D from Mushrooms, Sun, or Supplements? 

 If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on vitamin D. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Moss

    I live in Yukon, Canada (doesn’t show on your map). How much should I be taking? 4000 IU a day, all year long? Also, is this the amount for D2? Any thoughts on D2 vs. D3?

  • Toxins

    According to Dr. Mercola, we don’t get proper Vitamin D from the sun because we shower with soap and the oils that need to still be absorbed on top of our skin don’t have a chance to. He claims it takes 48 hours without a soapy shower for vitamin d to be used effectively. Is there any truth to this?

    • Alexandra Georgiadis

      The process by which vitamin D is synthesized by our body begins with a presence of sterol cholesterol on our skin which is converted into sterol-7dehydrocholesterol. When the skin is exposed to the sun (or ultra-violet light) for regular intervals, a photochemical conversion from sterol-7 dehydrocholesterol into Vitamin D occurs. The absorption of this newly formed vitamin D into the bloodstream is what is claimed to be disrupted by using soap. I’m not sure how strong the evidence is for this claim, and I wasn’t able to find a research publication on the topic. However, if it is true, all the more reason to take vitamin D supplements as Dr. Greger suggests! Here’s another great video that shows the association between vitamin D supplementation and longer life expectency, check it out! I hope this helps!

    • Paddycakes

      Mercola is a dolt. He also advocates eating meat and dairy which are carcinogenic.

      • Gross Bro

        Mercola also wants to sell you a $3500 tanning bed

        • Toxins

          And he sells tubs of coconut oil and advocates for raw milk.

  • evergreen517

    Now that there is a new vegan D3, (Vitashine) would you recommend this over D2? How much should we take per day? At 20$ a bottle, 4000 would be pretty expensive.

  • Sandy Cowell

    In New Zealand we have a problem with a hole in the ozone layer, causing a much more intense UV exposure and major problems with rates of skin cancers. My question is, does this mean the length of time for sun exposure in order to achieve sufficient vitamin D would be shorter than in the northern hemisphere?

  • kerleyc

    Very interesting…but what about sensible narrowband ultraviolet B for production of vitamin D? For example 10 minutes 3 times a week on bare skin, in conjunction with tobacco avoidance and an anti-oxidant packed, plant based diet which has been shown to be protective against skin damage including both melanoma & non-melanoma….

  • Agnete

    What about light therapy? Could this not be a way to avoid both the risk of skin cancer AND the dangers of vitamin d-supplements?

    • Don Forrester MD

       I recommend sun light first in moderation. You can consider Vit D supplementation and get levels checked to make sure you are not overdoing it. Although the recent recommended blood levels have been increased levels in the 20′s are probably acceptable. Some patients even with alot of sunlight exposure can’t raise their levels above 30. It is however a confusing area but the science keeps getting better. It is also possible that somewhere down the line we will discover some other substance or effect that natural sunlight has for us that isn’t contained in a Vit D supplement. The nice thing about sun light exposure is you can often couple it with exercise. So work with your  physician(s) and keep tuned to NutritionFacts as the science keeps coming….

  • Tlfinan

    Hello Dr. Greger,
    Love your video  website.
    Can you please post more videos on melanoma.  My sister-in-law died of it last year at 48 years old.  She left behind two beautiful teenage daughters.  I want to educate them on staying healthy.  Of course I am encouraging them to eat as much raw fruits and veggies as possible.

  • Rodrigo

    What about tanning beds with electronic ballasts? instead of magnetic, or the smaller version UV lamps? that are being sold? can these also me harmfull?

    • Dan

      electronic ballasts are more energy efficient than magnetic, but I can’t see how it would have any effect on the spectrum of light put out by the fluorescent lamps.

      Same would go if they used ultraviolet LEDs instead, all that really matters is the frequency of the light, and how powerful the light source is.

  • Carsten Müller

    What about Tanning Beds with UV-B insted of UV-A ?