February 05, 2009

Office workers can get skin cancer?

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, at this time of year the sun coming out behind the clouds is a Big Deal. People stop talking and stare in disbelief. They find sudden, unconvincing excuses to get outside.

Me, being a virtuous little worker bee, I try to keep typing while I hitch my chair a bit closer to the window in an attempt to soak up some rays. Turns out that's a bad idea. Who knew?

When the temperature is hovering around freezing, it's hard to go outside without wrapping self in layers and layers of clothing.

If the point of going outside is to soak up rays, this presents a problem. But it's even worse trying to get sunshine through glass.

It seems that's dangerous.

Unfair! I want to complain.

Here's the prob:
UVA = the bad stuff, the stuff you're supposed to put on sunscreen to
get away from.
UVB = the rays that cause skin to make vitamin D.

UVB rays are absorbed by plain ole glass.
UVA rays are transmitted just fine.

So sitting by the window soaking up rays can be a bad idea.

According to Dr. Mirkin, "since 1940 the greatest increase in melanomas has occurred in office workers, not in people who work outdoors. FDA researchers believe that low vitamin D levels may be responsible (Medical Hypothesis, January 2009)... Indoor office workers get up to nine times less UVB than people who spend more time outdoors.... So being indoors and exposing skin to the sun mostly through window glass reduces exposure to UVB that causes skin to make the vitamin D that prevents cancer, and increases relative exposure to UVA that destroys vitamin D in the skin and therefore increases cancer risk."

Well damn! A winter like this one, any sunny day that comes along has me glued to the window drinking in the sunshine without going outside and shivering me timbers off.

And even getting outdoors doesn't always help you get vitamin D at this time o' year. If you believe this study, above a certain latitude (52 degrees north) in winter, there "is not enough ultraviolet light of the appropriate wavelength for the body to make vitamin D on the skin." 52 degrees north translates roughly to cities such as Calgary or Birmingham. (No, not the one in Alabama.)

Put this one into the One More Thing to Worry About category. I was hoping I could find a study that proved using sun lamps let your body make vitamin D, but alas. So I'm turning to fish instead. Specifically herring. (Milk? Don't talk to me about milk. Okay, mostly because it makes me sick. But also, consider this: 3 ounces of herring would get you 1383 IU of vitamin D, while 8 ounces of fortified milk has 100 IU of vitamin D. Plus, herring is high in omega 3s. Take that, milk.)

Do you have any other ideas for getting sunshine/vitamin D/an early spring? Preferably ones that don't involve robbing a bank and hijacking a plane to Maui.
Photo credit: D'Arcy Norman

Well... unless it's a foolproof plan.

Non-Maui photos courtesy of substack.


  1. Good stuff. Who knew...office workers? And hubby was so excited his new office has a window...bla!

    Happy Thursday!!

  2. I'm screwed but at least that first pic of the "drowning arms" gave me a laugh.

  3. wow! All these years! I will still open up the blinds though......having more light in the house just puts me in a better mood. I am taking fish oil but am looking for a good D supplement to take with it.

  4. Not much to do about it. Not going to wear sunscreen indoorsI think...

  5. Then window winter sunshine would be similar to wearing a raincoat in the shower....or something like that?

  6. eek! and we just played cube musical chairs and I ended up nestled between two peeps instead of a window and one peep... i'm glad now! I'll stick to my lava lamp... :)

  7. I knew this job was going to kill me someday!

  8. Well bummer. This time of year I love soaking up the rays that come through the windows whenever I get a chance...I'm so sun deprived!

  9. I know...every.single.thing. is bad for us these days.

    though Im old.

    I slather the screen on every morning no matter what Im doing
    (and yes. I drive slowly & check the expiration dates on my food)

  10. True story: When they were building the building where my office is, they had a shortage of funds. So to save money, and complete the structure, they didn't put windows in any of the offices! Now I find out they actually did something good :-)

    Alrighty then!!

  11. I've kind of just given up on trying to get my micronutrient requirements all met. I'll eat healthy and take some vitamins, but I honestly doubt that I'll be able to get 100% of everything in, and I've made peace with that.

  12. Eh...my office doesn't provide me with windows I can actually access. So Yay, I don't need to worry about skin cancer. Just SAD and rickets.

  13. Pah! Windows! We lab slaves don't get windows! :)
    This makes me glas for my walk to the bus and back, altho I don't know how much sun I can absorb through just my face. Right now I go to work before the sun is up and am heading home as it is setting, so there's not a lot of light to be had...everyone gets a bit moody here in the winter.
    Luckily longer days are coming.
    Soon, morning runs in the sunshine :)

  14. I had no idea! Good the thing windows in the lab just face another building. where we can watch people go by without being seen!

  15. One more reason to be glad I'm not an office worker!

    But dang it all - I live at 55 degrees North, so apparently don't get any good rays in the winter, anyway!

    And Leah cracked me up with "better living through rollmops"!!

  16. I'm surprised to hear this because the only people I personally knew who had skin cancer were relatives (in Alabama where the sun is stronger) who spent a lot of time outdoors. But I didn't need anything extra to put me off office work.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  17. I'm so ignorant, I had to go look up 'rollmop.' I do like learning new words :)

    Though apparently a pickled herring has about half the vitamin D as the non-pickled version :(

  18. I'll still be sucking up the rays by the window. I'm more concerned about SAD than I am about skin cancer. That didn't sound so bad in my head. I guess it's the abstract idea versus my daily reality.

  19. That's the plus side of being in a place where you don't get the sun very often: you have to worry more about SAD than skin cancer. Have to say, an office with no windows would really depress me.

  20. This is the first year in my 34 years of existence that my vitamin D levels have been low enough that I needed to supplement them. My doctor actually has me on 2000 iu, which is more than twice what a friend of mine takes for her osteoporosis. Yikes!

    Is it can be spring time nao???

  21. Heh. Well then there's one good thing about living in New Orleans - we're at 30 degrees north so I guess I can go outside and get some vitamin D any time of year. Except that it's 46 degrees right now - brrr! Now if only they'd fix those darn levees...

  22. That truly does not seem fair! Very informative post though.

    I've been grappling with the sun exposure dilemma ever since reading how important vitamin D is. My compromise--I wear shorts but don't put sunscreen on my legs in winter when I go running. This method wouldn't work where it gets cold, but since I'm in California running tights usually aren't necessary. I hate sunscreen anyway, it's one less place to smear and I have at least a good rationalization for it.

    I always do my face and arms though.

    Didn't know about the bad rays coming through glass though. I always work near a window when I can; will rethink!

  23. I guess I'm lucky. I'm in an office that's much like the one in the movie Joe vs. The Volcano. No functional window (have one, it just looks out across the other side of the building), and pulsating flourescent lights. This is a slow death, my soul bleeding out a little each day. But I'm cancer free!

  24. Another reason to be glad i was "released" from my cubicle job while prego.

    Oooo... and a great reason to go out shopping with the baby! we both get a little sunshine, even if todays high temp is only in the teens..

  25. Crappy news about the UVA/UVB, but I must say at least I will be in a better mood from SEEING the sun as I plod through life cancer ridden and Vitamin D deficient!

  26. The last two days have been beautiful here in Portland! I try to pretend like the sun that hits my hands/face while waiting for the bus is enough to help me get some D. Yes, I live a rich fantasy life. Yesterday I could take off my jacket for a while before the goosebumps set in though. Thanks for the heads up on the windows, I didn't imagine that I was getting vitamin D through them, but I wasn't aware that UVA passed right through. I guess I'll pull the shade when the sun decides to peek out from behind the clouds.

  27. We experience the benefits of natural light indoors with the HappyLite Sunshine simulator:

    Soothing, Glare-free
    Chases away winter blues
    Healing Rejuvenating sunlight (simulated)
    Helps relieve depression.
    (this product is not intended to treat or prevent illness.

    My sister gets S.A.D. so we turn on the light and occasionally I tell her to "snap out of it."

  28. See, this is why I need a job that lets me work without getting out of bed. A distance-computer job. I could leave the drapes close and just lounge around.

    Better living through laziness!

  29. Thank heavens for living in Tucson, cancer be damned. I was sitting outside this morning with the glorious sun on my skin (good for my birds too). And herring? Ick, cannot go there.

  30. Ha! I recently got moved to an interior office with no windows, while my co-workers have nice, bright offices with the sun streaming through the windows. Now I feel like the fortunate one! (At least for a little while. A couple minutes after I close your post, I'll be longing for some natural light again.)

    I too live in the Pacific NW and am loving this sun!

  31. It almost seems that study is suggesting we office workers should change our routines-- HUH? Shouldn't they be working overtime to invent a better window? Preferably one fortified with a little extra vitamin D?

    (I'm new to your blog. After admiring a particularly but likely not unusually awesome comment you left on the FBGs site I knew I needed to come over here.)

  32. So happy I took my Vitamin D supplement today. lol. And that I just get indirect lighting at my office (maybe the only time that being in a cube and not an office rocks. lol.).

  33. Not unless you get one of those uv lights - it's probably bad for you too!

  34. Give me sun! My wife is all about sunscreen....maybe I should start applying the stuff?

  35. This is my first winter in Seattle, and I didn't believe that you could get SAD outside of, like, Alaska until now. Oh. My. God. It has been a miserable couple of months.

    I also think most of the Seattlites I've met are in fact mutants for actually liking this weather. My husband grew up here, and he actually grouches at me when it's sunny because it's "too bright outside." WTF.

  36. Anon, I feel your pain! When I moved up to Portland from SF, I had not anticipated how extremely depressed I would get in winter. I have to say, after the first winter the SAD hasn't been as bad. I suppose the body can adjust.

    Plus, I swear by those natural light lamps. If I could get vitamin D from those, life would be sweet.

  37. That explains all the freckles and moles on the left (driving) side of my face. Ugh. Growing up in Oregon I remember laying out in the sun with my sun-starved sorority sisters basking in the intermittent 62 degree sun thru rain clouds.

  38. Welcome tfh! The Fit Bottomed Girls blog has some great stuff on it; I love the workout DVD reviews especially -- polite, but informative :)

  39. Um...vitamin pills? That's where I get mine. I am NOT a sun person.

    So I guess it's okay I don't exactly have a window--I have a cube right around the corner from a big window with a view uptown. It's terrific. Every now and then I wander over there and see if there are any tugboats on the rivers. I love tugboats. So if I see one, it's as good as a vitamin pill.

  40. Dang, sunscreen to sit at your desk? (Not that I sit at a desk anymore, but still... I did for years.)

  41. I'm a huge fan of sunscreen...not that I've needed it lately. It's snowing again. #$%@!

    Can you tell I'm ready for spring?

  42. Now I'm super concerned about my charges at work...I'm in child care, and all of our classrooms have MASSIVE banks of window that look out onto the Willamette. It's beautiful, but let me tell you my boss needs to get her ass in gear and get us some blinds so that the kids will nap when the sun is blinding us off the water...

  43. I supplement with Vitamin D myself, being in one of those far north latitudes. I've also tried out the light boxes although it was too expensive too keep so I don't know how much it helped.

  44. Vitamin D-supplemented milk is a poor source of vitamin D because the calcium in milk uses up more than the vitamin D that is added.

  45. Food Sources of Vitamin D:
    + fatty fish (herring, salmon, mackerel, tuna, halibut, sardine, ...)
    + shitake mushrooms
    + shrimp, egg

  46. I've been taking a vitamin D supplement (shhh don't tell my professors) and actually feel markedly different (better). It is a high dose but is what has been shown to be beneficial in preventing colon cancer-I also got my mom on it and her oncologist approved heartily. It is really startling how many people are vitamin D deficient, especially senior citizens-I'm finding out more and more as I am gathering articles to do a seminar on "Vitamin D and Depression", which reminds me I need to work on that instead of being entertained on Cranky Fitness!

  47. No no, Erin, you should hang out here and be entertained :)
    Or at least come back after the seminar and let us know how it went!

  48. I wish I was an office worker again.


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