Things That Will Probably Kill You, Vol. 3


This week’s medical news comes with a heaping side order of mixed messages. Tanning is bad! (But you already knew that.) Sunscreen is also bad! There’s a lot of conflicting medical advice out there about sun exposure. My advice? PANIC.

Medicine and health writers make a living from informing readers about the innocuous, daily habits that are killing you right now. It’s their bread and butter. So it’s important to take alarmist headlines with a grain of salt. But not too much salt, because you’re already eating too much and it’s slowly killing your sodium-bloated body. You’ll know it’s working when you’re afraid of everything.

Proponents for increased Vitamin D intake like Dr. Mark Hyman of The Huffington Post claim that Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to “cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression – and multiple sclerosis.” The human body naturally produces Vitamin D during sunlight exposure, so those of us who slather on the sunscreen religiously are missing out, especially because the only food sources that provide Vitamin D are herring and cod liver oil. Eating herring is (probably) worse than skin cancer or rickets.

For those of you who live in places where sunning yourself outside isn’t possible about eight months out of the year (hello, Minnesota readers!), you might be tempted to build up your Vitamin D levels by visiting a tanning salon. You’ll also build up your melanoma levels, unfortunately; the American Association of Cancer Research links indoor tanning with a “74-percent higher risk of skin cancer.” Thanks for playing!

There’s no need to despair just yet, however: NYU dermatology professor Dr. Darrell Rigel claims many studies show that elevated levels of Vitamin D don’t make a difference. So stay in. Or go out. Or go out, but only swathed in white cotton and SPF 45. Or rub yourself down with cod liver oil and go tanning. Just stop getting your medical advice from the Internet, okay?

Image: Evil Erin

Mallory Ortberg

Mallory resides in San Francisco, California. You can catch her weekly Sex By Numbers column.