HEALTHY BITE | Public Health Messages Are Often Oversimplistic

Join me in this conversation as I discuss some of the highlights of my interview with Dr Leland Stillman. And how he reminded me of the importance of sunlight.

Public Health Messages Are Often Oversimplistic

If you haven’t heard this week’s episode with Dr. Leland Stillman from the United States, I really recommend you should. It’s such a good chat for so many reasons. 

Firstly, it was really interesting for me to hear that he had exposed himself to so many different specialties and practitioners in his journey into medicine prior to getting into medicine and then entering medicine with this knowledge, which must have been very frustrating for him as he went through med school. It’s always interesting to hear that kind of story, and it’s fantastic to be mentored by people early on and actually throughout your career. It’s so important for me to value my mentors and they are both young and old and so it was a timely reminder for that. 

Sunlight and Public Health Message

We talked about light, and light is all about not just sunlight, it’s about Red Light Therapy, Infrared Light Therapy, UVA, UVC, you know, sunlight, and all the benefits that go with that. I would really recommend that you have a listen to it. It’s such an important topic and one that I explored last year with Jason Bawden-Smith we talked about the effect of all of these different lights on such important aspects of our health.

I find it really interesting on another level because as a public health message, staying out of the sun has been hammered for so long. I mean sun causes skin cancer and so the message is a simple one, and that is to avoid the sun. That is the message that we get from the Anti-Cancer Foundation. “Slip, Slap, Slop” in Australia, “Be sun smart”. When I go down to the beach and I see what people do religiously with open heart following this kind of advice, you’ll see kids that have got rash tops on that, cover them from head to toe. They’ve got a hat on, they’ve got sunscreen plastered on their face at all costs. These well-meaning parents are trying to keep their kids out of the sun because it affects skin cancer.

Now, you know, I grew up at a time and some of you may have grown up at the time when our relationship to the sun was very different. I mean, when I was young, the idea of getting a suntan was really important and the key was to get your first burn over with early in the year. Once you peeled, you knew that your skin was far more resilient to the sun and you wouldn’t have a sunburn. You’d have this terrific suntan and that’s how we approached sun at that time and we even put on coconut oil to improve our tan. 

It didn’t have any sun protection factor in it. But interestingly, it may have had some other beneficial things, but we haven’t got time to go into that. That was our relationship with the sun and I certainly don’t subscribe to returning to that time.

But this is so emblematic, so typical of the way health messages are communicated, really simple. Sun causes skin cancer therefore, stay out of the sun. There’s only one problem or there actually many problems and that is we now have a global pandemic. We’re familiar with that word, pandemic. It means it cuts across not just this country, but many countries. We have a global pandemic in Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D and utilising it effectively

Now, vitamin D is not just about getting out in the sun, of course. It involves a whole lot of other nutrients. If you listen to that podcast that I did with Dr Carolyn Dean on the magic of Magnesium, that is just one of many, many other factors that go into producing Vitamin D and utilising it effectively. But it has led, this avoidance of the sun has definitely led to a Vitamin D deficiency.

The problem with Vitamin D deficiency is this: Vitamin D is critically important to avoid cancer. Yes, so here we go, we’re telling ourselves to stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, but we end up with Vitamin D deficiency and Vitamin D is essential in preventing cancer because as you all know, I’m sure that there are many, many more cancers than just skin cancer. It’s interesting, as I will in a moment to look at the relative impact of those other cancers but the Vitamin D deficiency makes you more susceptible to breast, colon, prostate, ovarian cancer. Not only that, it makes you more susceptible to Type 2 Diabetes.

Now, this is about a Holistic approach. So vitamin D deficiency doesn’t necessarily cause Type 2 Diabetes on its own. We’ve explored low-carb diets, we’ve explored poor sleep but here is another really important factor, as I’ve said in this episode with Leland. I’ve said many times before, there is something wonderful about the sun coming up every day.

We have an important relationship, as have almost every plant and animal in the world on our planet or with the sun. So the sun is a really important part of our lives and it has been since the beginning of time. So Type 2 Diabetes? Yeah, that’s a problem. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to Type 2 Diabetes.

What else does Vitamin D deficiency affect?

Increased risk of Cardiovascular disease. We’ll have a look at that in a moment, heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. What about Osteoporosis? What about Rheumatoid Arthritis? They’re all linked to Vitamin D deficiency while you stay out of the sun. What about depression? Well, you know, we’re going through a pandemic. Even before the pandemic, mental health was a major problem.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression and it’s actually the condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is something we intuitively all know when we stay, when we get out in the sun, we feel so much better. In the winter months, people don’t feel as good because they’re not being exposed to the sun as much as they could or should and that is now got a label on it called Seasonal Affective Disorders. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an antidepressant to treat that. I think getting out in the sun is a better one.

What about high blood pressure? And again, mental health is not just Vitamin D deficiencies. We’ve explored the importance of thought, we’ve explored the importance of stress, we’ve explored the importance of relationships, meaning, accomplishments in the PERMA Model but Vitamin D is a factor here as well. Similarly, high blood pressure. What about cognitive impairment? I want to remind you, I’m still talking about vitamin D deficiencies here.

Cognitive impairment is a huge and growing problem. Dementia, whether it be Dementia or Alzheimer’s, all different forms. We’ve talked about Dementia is now being classified as Type 3 Diabetes, which is all about sugar’s impact on our brain cells but Vitamin D is an important aspect of that.

Severe Asthma in children. Apparently, one in four kids in Australia suffers from Asthma. Pregnancy, foetal, and infant development, all affected by Vitamin D. Let’s put it into perspective because when you look at the deaths, in Australia in 2020, there were 1375 deaths from skin cancer in 2020. You would say, well, this is a big problem, so we really have to stay out of the sun.

But let’s just put that into perspective, because from the other cancers that I mentioned, colon, lung, colorectal, pancreatic, prostate, breast. Of those cancers, there were 48000 deaths from cancer in Australia so your skin cancers are perhaps on the decline. These other cancers, which are related to Vitamin D deficiencies amongst a lot of other things, I mean, environmental toxins, nutrition, stress levels, poor sleep, but Vitamin D is part of this. 48000 deaths from these other cancers that maybe could have been helped by being exposed in a healthy way to the sun.

What about cardiovascular disease? Well, we’re talking about the impact of these 17 and a half thousand deaths from Cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D has a positive impact on cardiovascular disease and then Diabetes, almost 16, well, almost 17000 deaths from Diabetes as well. So you can see that this is not quite as straightforward as stay out of the sun.


In the episode I had with Dr. Leland Stillman, I thought was fantastic. He reminded me of the importance of sunlight, but he went into it in a lot more detail. He referenced the work of Dr. Jack Kruse, who I am really exploring, particularly during this lockdown. I think he’s a neurosurgeon, interestingly, started off life as a dentist, went into oral surgery, medicine, and then went into neurosurgery. His approach to this understanding, the biophysics of disease, is really an exciting part.

As I keep saying too, the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. So in this pandemic, I’ve been really trying to knuckle down and explore the work of Jack Kruse, which is a mentor of Dr. Leland Stillman. While I’m at it, I’ll just digress here for a moment. I’m also exploring the work of Dr. Stephen Porges and Polyvagal theory. That’s a whole other story and we’re going to be doing episodes on that. I encourage you to have a listen to this week’s episode with Dr. Leland Stillman. I hope this finds you well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.