It would be enough if all sunlight did was to help make vitamin D. This vitamin/hormone is essential for healthy bones, immunity, diabetes prevention, and brain function. But sunlight also makes a substance that helps lower blood pressure, which lowers your risk for heart attack and stroke.
In fact, scientists at the University of Edinburgh in the UK now think it may be possible that the heart-healthy benefits of sun exposure could outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer. In a new landmark study, researchers discovered that sunlight touching the skin causes your body to release nitric oxide (NO) into your blood vessels. And, as I've told you before, nitric oxide helps lower blood pressure.
This study is particularly significant for residents of the UK and other northern areas. That's because the researchers found that rates of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease rise in the winter and are tied to geographic latitude. For example, rates are much higher in northern Europe than in southern Europe. Could the sunshine in France and Italy be part of the reason these areas have lower heart attack rates? The answer seems to be yes.
In northern Europe, for every skin cancer death, there are approximately 60 to 100 deaths due to stroke and heart disease linked to high blood pressure. I've told you in the past that the benefits of sun exposure far outweigh the risk. This study definitely confirms what I've told you.
Previously, many researchers believed that sunlight was primarily beneficial because it helped humans produce vitamin D, which is also available in supplement form. Now, this study shows that sun doesn't just produce more vitamin D - it also produces NO. And this NO production is separate from the production of vitamin D.
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To demonstrate this, researchers examined volunteers who sat under sunlamps for two 20-minute sessions. In one session, they gave the volunteers both ultraviolet (UV) rays and heat. But they gave the other group only heat - but no UV rays. Participants' blood pressure fell only when they exposed them to both the heat and the UV rays. What's more, the reduction lasted for approximately 50 minutes. Their vitamin D levels did not change in the experiment.
According to Senior Lecturer in Dermatology Richard Weller, "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."
The team is planning to continue investigating the benefits of sun exposure and weighing them against the risks. But for now, it looks like your next day at the beach or in the garden may not just help your mental health - it will be good for your heart as well.
If you can't spend time outdoors and you're worried about your blood pressure, make sure you're taking CircO2
. It helps your body produce NO, which can help lower your blood pressure and lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
REF: International Investigative Dermatology 2013 in Edinburgh, May 2013.
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, April 15, 2013.