A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests that moderate exposure to sunlight can help reduce blood pressure and help prevent heart disease.
Research from the universities of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight alters the level of nitric oxide (NO) in the skin. NO is a small messenger molecule that controls blood pressure. This interaction helps the body regulate a safe and healthy blood pressure, and can even work wonders in reducing high blood pressure.
How does it work? NO is abundant in the skin, so exposure to sunlight causes small amounts of NO to be released from the skin into circulation, lowering and balancing the body’s blood pressure. Since blood pressure is linked directly to the occurrence of heart disease and heart attacks, exposure to sunlight can aid in their prevention. It’s time to get outside, with your sunscreen applied for protection against the harmful UV rays. Instead of popping pills, you could be out walking to get your sun fix. Simple, easy and absolutely free!
Many people try to limit their exposure to sunlight because of skin cancer fears. However, the study researchers suggest that reducing and limiting exposure may prove more harmful than helpful, increasing the risk of conditions related to heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
To put this in a global context, cardiovascular disease is associated with high blood pressure levels, and accounts for close to 30 percent of worldwide deaths each year; higher incidents are reported during the winter months, especially in countries further from the equator. Again, these observations suggest that sunlight plays a role in heart health.
The British study involved 24 healthy individuals whose skin was exposed to artificial ultraviolet (UVA) light from sun lamps for two sessions of 20 minutes each. In the first session, the volunteers were exposed to both the UV rays and the heat emanating from the lamps. In the second session, the UV rays were blocked so that only the heat of the lamps came in contact with the skin.
The researchers found that just 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight could dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
The results suggest that UVA exposure significantly lowers blood pressure and alters nitric oxide levels within the bloodstream, all without affecting vitamin D levels in the blood. They also found that deposits of NO in the upper layers of skin are released into the bloodstream by UVA exposure.
The data supports the observations made regarding seasonal fluctuations of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease occurrences. The study results hold weight in the continuing debate over the health benefits of sunlight.
Next in line for further research include the role of diet on nitric oxide deposits in the skin, and the impact of chronic exposure to sunlight on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
Show your heart some love by taking a walk in a park or around the neighborhood. If further research backs up these study findings, your family doctor soon may be recommending the very same thing.