Exposure to Sunlight May Help Lower Blood Pressure

EDINBURGH – May 22, 2013 – It’s common knowledge that too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation can lead to skin cancer and other melanomas. However, researchers in Scotland have discovered an unexpected association of exposure to UV rays with lowered blood pressure and overall heart health. This means that some sunshine can be good for you after all.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that when the skin is exposed to sunlight, blood vessels release a compound called nitric oxide that brings about a drop in blood pressure. This reduced blood pressure likely reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke and may even extend life expectancy.

Dr. Richard Weller, a senior lecturer in dermatology and author of the study, said, “We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer.”

Deaths from heart disease far outweigh those from skin cancer, and therefore the overall health risk of avoiding sun entirely may be greater than taking more time in the sun for one’s heart’s sake.

The EPA has warned that UV radiation may suppress the immune system and compromise the natural defense that skin provides, increasing the risk of infection. However, this new data now brings more uncertainty to the question of just how much sun is good for a person over a lifetime.

Researchers used tanning lamps with both heat only and heat plus UV rays on subjects to determine a definite effect from the UV exposure on blood pressure levels. Interestingly, the subjects’ vitamin D levels remained unaffected by the exposure. Boosting vitamin D has long been thought a positive outcome of exposure to sunlight.

The research has suggested that adding vitamin D supplements may not fully replace the array of benefits that regular, moderate exposure to sunlight provides.

However, not all researchers are convinced. Nina Goad, a spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists spoke to Everyday Health magazine: “The findings do not confirm sustained blood pressure reduction in the general population,” she said. She and other researchers also point to the many well-established methods of reducing blood pressure such as healthier diet and exercise, medication, avoiding obesity, limiting alcohol intake and not smoking. Further study by the University of Edinburgh is planned for the coming year.

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