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People ofTeenage diversity the world come in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors. The dissimilarities among us are what creates the diversity that we can so fortunately enjoy in the “melting pot” that is America. These differences did not all happen by chance, however. In fact, scientists can trace back to the earlier stages of civilization to a time where we were not so different. In the same school of thought as evolution, there are theories that humans began with a dark complexion, and some northward populations eventually developed lighter skin as a means for survival. Believe it or not, much of this theory is attributed to the sun!
Yes, it is true... the sun is responsible for more than just harmful UV-rays (but you didn’t get that from us!). Along with the solar power that makes vegetative life and sustainable energy possible, we humans even require some of the nutrients given by the sun, like Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps us maintain healthy bones, teeth, and fight certain diseases. This vitamin is available to us through fatty foods and fortified food sources, but can also be metabolized through the skin secondary to exposure to the UV B radiation (burning rays). Those with lighter complexions, though, metabolize vitamin D at an efficiency rate six times faster than those with darker complexions. This is for the same reason that those with fairer complexions will burn much quicker than those with darker pigmentation. This concept is what leads us to the explanation as to how white complexions came about.
After the last ice age, there was a large migration of modern humans from Africa to Europe. Since northern Africa is at lower latitude, the sun is more intense, and thus UVB is more intense. As people moved north, there was less UV intensity and therefore they were not metabolizing adequate amounts of this essential vitamin. Since fortified food sources of today, (milk, juice, etc.) were not in existence just yet, humans had to evolve in order to solve this threat to survival. By developing paler skin, they were able to absorb more UV B rays and metabolize Vitamin D at a greater rate, and so the intense sun of Africa was no longer necessary. Even in areas outside of Europe and Africa, such as North America and South America, there is a definite gradient of lighter to darker skin as people migrate away from the equator. Although this is just one hypothesis with other contributing factors, many scientists agree that Vitamin D synthesis is the most probable cause for skin color diversity.
Today, with skin cancer being the most prevalent of all cancers in the US, pale skin no longer provides a survival advantage. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine tackled the issue of sun exposure and vitamin D. Their official report stated, “concerns about skin cancer risk precludes incorporating the effects of sun exposure in the DRI (dietary recommended intake) process.” They went on to recommend that Americans ensure adequate vitamin D through the ingestion of foods rich in vitamin D and supplements rather than by exposing their skin to the sun. It is clear that all Americans need to be SunAWARE. Remember to limit unprotected exposure to UV radiation. Be safe, Be SunAWARE!

 

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