Sunny Skin: How Much Sun Is Too Much?
There is no temptation like the sun. Although that tan may look great now, we all know that in the long run, it can cause wrinkling and, worse, skin cancers. Wrinkles not only make you look and feel older than you want to be, but are actually signs of skin damage and ageing. Wrinkles show that your skin, one of your most important organs, is losing the elastin that keeps it young and healthy. Some forms of skin cancer make your RealAge significantly older very fast.
Everyone needs some sun each day. Sun allows our bodies to turn specific kinds of food-derived cholesterols into vitamin D, an important nutrient that helps decrease ageing of the cardiovascular and immune systems. In turn, the liver and kidneys convert vitamin D into vitamin D3, the active form of the vitamin. In fact, ten to twenty minutes of sunlight a day appears to be the optimal amount of exposure to the sun that each of us needs and can make your RealAge 0.7 years younger. If you do not get some sun every day, substitute vitamin D daily. Studies on mood elevation show that sunlight and exposure to broad-spectrum light help improve our mood. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other types of depression can be improved by exposure to sunlight. So, some sun is good, but how much sun is too much?
In general, your risk of skin cancer is determined by how much sun exposure you received in your youth. People who had severe sunburns as children are at much higher risk of skin cancers than those who never burned. Since most skin cancers are slow to develop, the sun exposure you get later in life is less damaging than the exposure you get in childhood. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful. If you plan to be in the sun for more than ten or twenty minutes a day, you should take precautions.
Exposure to ultraviolet light not only ages your skin by destroying elastin and promoting wrinkles, but also damages the chromosomes in your skin cells. Chromosomes are the strands of DNA contained in each cell in your body. If you look through a microscope at sun-damaged skin cells, you can see actual breaks in the chromosomes where they have been damaged by solar radiation. This chromosomal damage can lead to cancers. Amazingly, the sun can even damage the chromosomes in cells not directly exposed to sunlight.
There are essentially three major kinds of skin cancers: basal cell cancers, squamous cell cancers, and malignant melanomas. Ninety percent of the roughly 400,000 reported cases of skin cancers each year are either basal or squamous cell cancers. Although these forms are rarely fatal and can usually be removed surgically without major repercussions, they are often disfiguring. In contrast, malignant melanomas are very serious and can be fatal. Approximately 34,000 cases of malignant melanomas are reported each year. Although Caucasians suffer skin cancers at somewhat higher rates than Asians, Hispanics, or African Americans, anyone can get skin cancers. More important, skin cancer rates are increasing annually among all population groups.
People who are at a particular risk are those with a family history of skin cancers and those who were excessively exposed to the sun, especially those who had severe burns, during childhood. If you have moles or a family history of moles, you need to be especially attentive to skin cancers. Look for changes in the color, size, or shape of moles. If you note any changes, see your doctor immediately. A mole that looks irregular, has variable colors, or is larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter should be examined by your doctor. Do self-examinations regularly. And have a family member, spouse, or friend check the places that are hard for you to see for any suspicious moles or changes in moles.
Use sunscreen. If you plan to be in the sun for more than twenty minutes, you should use a sunscreen of at least SPF-15. SPF stands for 'sun protection factor,' and the number fifteen means that you get fifteen times the level of protection that you would get if you wore no sunscreen at all. Everyone under the age of thirty should use at least that level of protection, no matter how long he or she is in the sun. Likewise, SPF-30 means you get thirty times the protection. But SPF is only the beginning. More important, you need broad-spectrum protection.
There are three kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, the rays with the longest wavelength, are the rays that cause you to tan. They are the safest of the ultraviolet rays but can cause cancers and definitely promote wrinkles. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are somewhat more dangerous and are the most common cause of sunburn and skin cancers. Ultraviolet C (UVC) rays—those with the shortest wavelength—are the most dangerous, causing high rates of cancers. Luckily, the ozone layer blocks out most of these UVC rays, although in such Southern Hemisphere countries as Australia and New Zealand, where the ozone layer is damaged, you need to be particularly careful and use sunscreen that protects against exposure to UVC.
Different sunscreens use different chemicals to block out rays. Some use PABA; others use benophenones or parisol 1789. Each composition is better than the others at blocking a particular type of UV ray. Studies on albino rats show that mixing all three—thus getting protection from all the kinds of UV rays—provides the best overall protection. Consider using two or three different sunscreens at once, a PABA-based one, a benophenone-based one, and a parsol 1789-based one. If you are going to be out a long time, you should also use zinc oxide on areas particularly vulnerable to skin cancers, like the lips and nose. If you are planning on exercising or being in the water, make sure to apply water-resistant products or, better yet, waterproof products. Finally, apply products liberally and often. The consistent use of sunscreen helps preserve your skin, preventing skin cancers and wrinkling.
Don't think that you need to cover only your face. Skin cancers can appear anywhere on the body, even on areas that have not had excessive exposure to the sun. Although cancers are more likely to occur in areas that the sun has reached, it has recently been shown that too much sun can cause cancers anywhere on the body. For example, construction workers who get tan only on their necks and arms can develop skin cancers on parts of their bodies that have never been exposed to the son.
Finally, avoid tanning beds, which emit a lot of UVA rays. Remember that UVA rays cause wrinkling. If you decide to use a tanning bed, do not expose yourself for more than ten minutes a day and wear a physical block sunscreen like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide on such vulnerable areas as the lips, nose, ears, and shoulders. If you insist on having a tan, consider using the no-sun tanning cream dihydroxyacetone. It poses no known risks, and most experts believe that it is safer than baking in the sun.
So, remember, some sun is good. It helps to promote the production of vitamin D and to prevent certain kinds of depression. Just be careful about getting too much sun. Overexposure can make your RealAge 0.9 years older. Also, don't neglect to take vitamin D supplements and to eat a diet rich in vitamin D because the sun probably won't give you enough.
(PREVENTING WRINKLES: COMMON SENSE SHOULD TELL YOU THAT AIR, WIND, SUN, AND WASHING, DRIES OUT THE SKIN. YOU NEED TO PUT BACK MOISTURE BY USING A SKIN CREAM, AT LEAST TWICE A DAY, MORNING AND EVENING. IT HAS ALSO BEEN SHOWN VIA TV "INVESTIGATIVE PROGRAMS" THAT SPENDING MORE THAN $25 FOR SKIN CREAM, IS THROWING YOUR MONEY DOWN THE TOILET - Keith Hunt)
Now that we've talked about cancers and environmental risk, let's consider other kinds of immune system ageing. Did you know that flossing your teeth is one of the best and easiest ways to keep your immune system young?
Keeping Your Teeth—
If I asked you to list things that mark the transition to old age, I bet that the word dentures would be near the top of the list. In all the cartoons and stereotypes, the typical 'old' person wears dentures. Tooth loss, through cavities and disease, makes us feel and look old like almost nothing else. But it's not just our vanity that's at stake. Dental disease and tooth loss don't just make us look older, they make us older. Indeed, periodontal disease can make our RealAge more than 3.4 years older.
Two major studies and another smaller study confirm that the presence or absence of cavities doesn't seem to make a difference in your overall health or longevity, although cavities do lead to dentures faster. The presence of gum disease, called gingivitis, or diseases that destroy the underlying jawbone, called periodontal diseases, do affect the rate of ageing. These studies show that the presence of periodontal diseases, diseases most common in people with tooth loss, actually affects longevity. The best of these studies, done at Emory University in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control, indicated that people with gingivitis and periodontitis have a mortality rate that is 23 percent to 46 percent higher than those who don't. When translated into RealAge terms, these dental diseases make you more than 3.4 years older.
Why? They are linked to increased rates of cardiovascular disease and strokes, as well as to an increase in mortality from other causes, such as infections. Conversely, the absence of periodontal diseases makes you 6.4 years younger than the median person.
When I first read these studies, I couldn't believe the findings. Why would dental health affect arterial health? I've never been one to savor a visit to the dentist, and I had always regarded dental health as primarily a cosmetic issue. We want healthy teeth because a nice white smile looks good. I assumed that the correlation between dental disease and higher death rates was due to confounding factors: I assumed that people with other bad health habits—smoking, overeating, too much alcohol consumption—would also be more likely to develop dental disease. But I was wrong, very wrong. Flossing your teeth daily can make your arteries younger. The probable reason: Flossing helps keep your immune system young. For example, men under age fifty who have advanced periodontal disease are 2.6 times more likely to die prematurely and three times more likely to die from heart disease than are those who have healthy teeth and gums. Why would this be so?
Although the data remain sketchy, a plausible hypothesis is that the same bacteria that cause periodontal disease also trigger an immune response, inflammation, that causes the arteries to swell. The swelling of the arterial walls results in a constriction of blood flow that can lead to a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Inflammation and constriction cause a buildup of lipid deposits along the arterial walls. Furthermore, this inflammation destabilizes already existing plaques. Indeed, a bacterial strain commonly found in tooth plaque has also been found in the fatty deposits that can clog your arteries. Other studies have shown that periodontal disease leads to a higher white blood cell count, which is an indicator that the immune system is under increased stress.
Hence, it appears that the same plaque that causes tooth decay—the sticky coating of bacteria, salvia, and food deposits—also needlessly ages both your immune system and your arteries. Whether the arterial-swelling theory is true, my 'confounding-factors' theory was disproved. All the major studies done on dental disease and longevity had adjusted for the very confounding factors I was worried about, such as smoking, alcohol, and cholesterol levels, and still found a distinct relationship between the incidence of periodontal disease and a shortened life span. Poor oral hygiene and particularly increased tooth loss are important indicators of your risk. (The fewer teeth you have, the greater your risk of gum infections.)
What should you do to prevent this unnecessary ageing? Do the things you already know you should do. Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste several times a day, especially after eating. (Some studies suggest that it may be more effective to brush with no toothpaste, but these findings are still preliminary.) If you cannot brush after a meal, chew sugarless gum instead. When you brush, make sure to brush your tongue, to get rid of bacteria that can cause gum disease and bad breath. Also, floss every day. Flossing is perhaps the most important thing you can do to prevent periodontal disease and the element of our daily routine that we are most likely to skip.
Other factors that appear to increase the incidence of periodontal disease are smoking and stress. So there's yet another incentive to quit smoking and to learn to manage stress. Finally, go to the dentist at least once, but preferably twice, a year to have your teeth cleaned and examined. And keep smiling, because each time you floss, you are making yourself younger.
(MY DAD USED TO BRUSH HIS TEETH AFTER EVERY MEAL [TOOK A TOOTH BRUSH WITH HIM TO WORK]. HIS DENTIST ON ONE VISIT SAID TO HIM, "YOU ARE BRUSHING YOUR TEETH TOO MUCH, YOU ARE BRUSHING AWAY THE ENAMEL." TOOTH AND GUM AND JAW BONE STRENGTH IS FROM YOUR DIET AND GETTING PLENTY OF CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D. AN OVERALL HEALTHY BODY MEANS YOU WILL HAVE HEALTHY GUMS. MY DAD WOULD ALSO WASH HIS MOUTH OUT WITH "LISTERENE" OR SIMILAR MOUTH WASH, ONCE A DAY - Keith Hunt)
The Immune System:
The Final Word—
Or Just the Beginning
This chapter has been an introduction to the immune system. The rest of the book tells you even more about the ageing of the immune system and, more important, what you can do to prevent it. More and more, we are learning that our choices and behaviors change this rate of ageing. All of us can do things to keep our immune systems strong and young, and there's no better way to prevent cancer and the myriad other autoimmune diseases that age us.
TO BE CONTINUED