Sunbed no answer for the blues

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013
Sunbed

RISKY CURE: The Cancer Society warns against using sunbeds as a cure for the winter blues.

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An Auckland doctor who told a patient to use a sunbed to cure her winter blues put her at risk by exposing her to dangerous ultra-violet rays, the Cancer Society says.

The woman, who won't be named, was prescribed the intense ultra-violet therapy last month by her Howick general practitioner, who diagnosed her with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a mood disorder where people suffer different degrees of depression as a result of a lack of vitamin D.

But harsh UV light emitted from sunbeds contributed to skin cancer, said Barb Hegan, national adviser for skin cancer control at the Cancer Society. "The Cancer Society would like all sunbeds switched off across New Zealand because they're dangerous and unnecessary," she said.

Hundreds of New Zealanders die of skin cancer each year.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners said the use of sunbeds to treat SAD was "not unheard of" but was certainly not common.

"The use of light box therapy is more common and there is a body of research that suggests there may be benefits from using light boxes," a spokesman said.

He would not comment on whether prescribing a few minutes a day under the intense light was safe. "Individual GPs must make a judgment, in consultation with the patient, on what they consider the most appropriate treatment for the condition."

Christchurch doctor Leigh Hooper was surprised that time on a sunbed had been prescribed to treat SAD. Light box therapy was more appropriate, she said.

"Exposure to natural sunlight also helps. The sun in winter does not have as high a UV concentration as in summer and the ozone layer is more prevalent in winter and there is more cloud cover, so there is a different burning intensity."

A 2011 report by the Otago Medical School in Wellington found that sunbeds did not emit the correct type of light to treat a deficiency of vitamin D, but acknowledged that sunbeds "may be a potential treatment for seasonal affective disorder".

Matt Adams, owner of Sunset Tan in Mount Eden, said treating SAD with sunbeds was appropriate.

"Sunbathing, whether it is in the sun outdoors or on a sunbed indoors is more or less the same thing," he said.

"Those doctors who believe that sunlight is beneficial for SAD, those doctors would be correct in assuming a sunbed would be the appropriate course of action."

Auckland Council is set to become the first city to licence sun beds and require commercial sun bed businesses to make them R18 from next July.

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew announced in April that the Government would be amending the Health Act later this year to prohibit access to commercial sunbeds for people under 18.

WELLNESS TIPS TO AVOID THE WINTER BLUES

  1. Wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading germs. 
  2. Exercise daily and eat a healthy diet to help build your immune system. 
  3. Use a dehumidifier to help keep your home dry, and open windows during the day for a short time to get fresh air circulating. 
  4. Quit smoking. Visit quit.co.nz for support. 
  5. Get the flu vaccination. 

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You can get free health advice from a trained nurse by calling Health Line, ph 0800 611 116. 

- Sunday Star Times

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