It’s almost sounds too good to be true. New research out of the U.K. has found simply exposing skin to sunlight helps to reduce blood pressure, cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The small study, conducted by University of Edinburgh researchers, suggests simply spending some time in the sun each day may help prolong life.
Richard Weller, a dermatology specialist who helped lead the study, noted too much sun exposure has been linked to skin cancer.
But he added: “We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight.”
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Weller’s research, which is to be presented this week at an International Investigative Dermatology conference in Edinburgh, showed that the sun's rays trigger the release of a natural compound that helps lower blood pressure. That compound — nitric oxide — is independent from the body's production of vitamin D, which also rises after exposure to sunshine.
Until now, vitamin D was believed to solely explain the sun's benefit to human health, the scientists added.
To reach their conclusions, researchers studied the blood pressure of 24 volunteers exposed to tanning lamps for two sessions of 20 minutes each. In one session, the volunteers were exposed to both the UV rays and the heat of the lamps. In the other, the UV rays were blocked so that only the heat of the lamps reached the skin.
The results showed that blood pressure dropped significantly for one hour following exposure to UV rays, but not after the heat-only sessions. The volunteers' vitamin D levels were unaffected in both sessions.
“We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure,” Weller said. “If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure.”
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