Let the Sun Shine (Moderately) on Your Multiple Sclerosis

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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I love it when the sun is shining.

I spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer, despite the impact of the heat on my multiple sclerosis. I love the warmth and the brightness. So, I lather up with sunscreen and I figure that, at least for me, the rewards of being in the sun outweigh the risks.

So, I was very interested when I came across a study that concludes insufficient sun exposure should be considered an “emerging health problem” in the United States. In their paper, The Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure 2016, the authors make the case that health officials are delivering only a negative message to the public about sun  exposure — that is, sun exposure is bad for you. Because of this, they say, Americans aren’t reaping the health benefits they should be getting from the sun.

“The message of sun avoidance advocated by our government, and some within the medical community, should be changed immediately to a recommendation of regular non-burning sun exposure for most Americans,” says lead author David Hoel, PhD, a distinguished university professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. “The sun is essential for life and should be diligently pursued in moderation, not avoided,” he says.

Deaths Can be Linked to Lack of Vitamin D

This new study, published in the Journal Dermato-Endocrinology, cites recent estimates that about 13% of all U.S. deaths (330,000 deaths per year) could have a connection to vitamin D insufficiency. (That’s only slightly lower than the percentage of deaths in the U.S. that are linked to tobacco use.) And, it reports that 70% of the people in the U.S. who have a vitamin D insufficiency have it primarily because they avoid being in the sun.

Low Sun Exposure Can Lead to Increased Disease Risk

The study says insufficient sun exposure increases the risk of many types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, diabetes, myopia, macular degeneration — and multiple sclerosis. The paper points to a number studies that  support the view that sun exposure reduces the risk of MS through pathways independent of vitamin D.  Inversely, people with less exposure to the sun have a higher risk of MS.

If you think you can substitute vitamin D supplements for sun exposure, you may want to think again.  This study claims there’s no proof that these supplements are an adequate substitute for actually getting out and being exposed to the sun.

Balancing Sun Exposure with Sunburn Risk

The authors believe that sunscreen should be used as a tool to prevent sunburn, but they think people should know that using it too much may have negative consequences. They believe that sunscreen labels should contain a statement cautioning that sunscreen blocks vitamin D production in the skin. “Sunlight provides vitamin D, but it provides so much more,” says vitamin D researcher Michael Holick, MD, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University. “The UV from sunlight has other health benefits. Most public health agencies have ignored the indisputable evidence that sensible sun is good for you in moderation,” he said.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Marc avatar


Great article, Ed. This is one of the most important research papers on sunlight every published.
It has been know for decades that MS is associated with sunlight deprivation. In equatorial areas where the sun almost always shines, the risk of contracting Ms is virtually zero, whereas in areas of little sun the risk is highest. And it is not just due to vitamin D. Recent research has shown sun exposure decreases MS risk totally independent of vitamin D. Here are a few more scientifically documented benefits of sun exposure that you may not have known about:

•As sun exposure in the U.S. has DECREASED by 90% during the last century, melanoma incidence has INCREASED BY 3,000%.
•A 20-year Swedish study shows that sun avoidance is as bad for the health as cigarette smoking.
•A Spanish study shows that women who seek the sun have one-eleventh the hip fracture risk as those who avoid sun.
•Men who work outdoors have half the risk of melanoma as those who work indoors.
•Women who totally avoid the sun have 10-times the risk of breast cancer as those who embrace the sun.
•Women who sunbathe regularly have half the risk of death during a 20-year period compared to those who stay indoors.
•Sun exposure increases nitric oxide production, which leads to a decrease in heart attack risk.
•Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is essential to human survival, and sun exposure is the only natural way to obtain it. Sunbathing can produce 20,000 units of vitamin D in 20 minutes of whole-body exposure.
•Sun exposure dramatically improves mood through the production of serotonin and endorphin.
•Beyond vitamin D, sun exposure also stimulates the production of endorphin, nitric oxide and BDNF, all of which are vital to human health.
•Regular sun exposure also reduces high blood pressure, heart disease, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis (MS).
•As sunscreen use has increased dramatically, melanoma has INCREASED exponentially.
For the scientific references and articles for the above statements, visit http://sunlightinstitute.org/

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Marc,

I appreciate your comments. I only intended to provide a brief overview of the subject. As someone who writes and lectures on this subject, as well as other health/fitness topics, you have a lot of information at your fingertips. You also, obviously, have a very a strong opinion about sun exposure and health.

Thanks for sharing.


Frank Havnoonian avatar

Frank Havnoonian

Higher dosing of "D" saved my life. Gestational diabetes and post-Partum depression are also tied to low D.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Frank.

I'm glad to hear when any treatment is a life saver. I'm happy vitamin D helped you.



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