- - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The sun is ever shooting healthful rays at us, even as the surgeon general of the United States suggests we dart for cover under sunscreen and hats. The sun’s rays are evil, the government tells us, and we should avoid them like the plague.

So why has mankind not died out from sun-caused disease thousands of years ago?

There would be nothing without the sun — no animals, plants or government bureaucrats looking for something to regulate. Man has always toiled beneath it, chasing buffalo on the American plains, growing crops in barbarian Europe, catching fish in pre-dynastic China. Are we really “harmed” by its rays more than they were?

Our bodies require sun, as well as life-sustaining salt and fats our surgeon general also says we don’t need. Maybe what we don’t need is a surgeon general.

The precursor of today’s surgeon general was the Marine Hospital System, established in 1798 to care for injured sailors. In 1889, Congress authorized the Commission Corps, a mobile army of physicians led by a surgeon general. It was a noble beginning with a focused cause made up of doctors providing care.

Now devolved into Nanny State Central, the surgeon general’s office has become spokesman for intrusive government policies that unnecessarily frighten people, try to control their personal decisions, and made up primarily of bureaucrats, whether or not they have “M.D.” after their names.

In four years, the budget for the surgeon general has nearly doubled to $2.3 million in 2014 with another increase expected for 2015. Meanwhile, U.S. Marine and Navy personnel, for whom the office was originally established, suffer under massive cuts that have caused Pentagon brass to express serious concerns about their readiness under President Obama’s 2015 budget proposals.

The fundamental problem with the surgeon general is that it is a political appointment. Either by force or gleeful acquiescence, recent surgeons general have been political pawns, including Bush appointee Vice Adm. Richard Carmona, who testified to Congress after his retirement that the administration had pressured him to be more “political.” The current acting surgeon general, Rear Adm. Boris Lushniak, is a vocal supporter of Obamacare, as was his predecessor and fellow Obama appointee Dr. Regina Benjamin. Clinton surgeon general Dr. Joycelyn Elders was an ardent supporter of Hillarycare proposals.

If the “nation’s doctors” can dole out politically motivated insurance advice, their ability to deliver sound, agenda-free health guidance is also questionable. On the specific question of “exposure,” we are getting too much White House-focused surgeon general and not enough science — or sun.

An August study by the American Academy of Neurology found low Vitamin D levels (delivered through UVB rays) are a major contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and all forms of dementia. A moderate Vitamin D deficiency can cause a 51 percent increase in dementias; a severe deficiency, 122 percent. This is a profound finding.

Research recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology (and ignored by our medical bureaucrats) found increased rates of melanoma were not the result of too much sun exposure, but the benefit of “diagnostic drift” — increased awareness of the disease by the public and physicians, leading to hikes in identifying the disease in early, rather than latter, stages. This is good news, as melanoma is a dreadful and deadly disease, but more rapid identification does expand the universe of diagnostic numbers.

This study and another in the prestigious medical journal Lancet also found skin cancers increasing at greatest rates among indoor workers, though Vitamin D-producing UVBs don’t pass through windows. Other global studies have found that more sun actually protects against melanoma and leads to lower incidences of breast, colorectal and ovarian cancers and that 30 percent of cancers could be prevented with adequate UVB exposure.

The surgeon general continues to suggest we get our Vitamin D from foods or supplements despite consensus among scientists that only UVB rays are adequate for good health. We need several hours of exposure every week — without sunscreen. Moderation and common sense are key whether you get your Vitamin D fix outside or from a turn in an indoor tanning booth.

Despite pronouncements about banning tanning, in a July interview, Dr. Lushniak admitted he “really didn’t” know what is causing rising skin cancer diagnoses. But scientists do, and increases in early detection is a welcome result. Both that data and the critical importance of natural or machine-generated UVB rays to American health seem to be missing from his briefing papers.

On Halloween, goodies from the surgeon general’s house might include tubes of sunscreen, shakers of salt substitutes and Obamacare applications.

Perhaps instead he should be giving out his resignation — and we should insist that science, and not political cronies, inform Americans on critical health issues.

Kerri Toloczko is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, a public-policy institute dedicated to promoting individual freedom, limited government and free enterprise.

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