If you love being out and about in sunny weather then here’s some good news.
Latest research suggests sunlight might help to naturally lower blood pressure, and cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. A recent study carried out at Edinburgh and Southampton Universities, UK shows that sunlight alters the levels of small molecule, nitric oxide (NO) within the blood and skin, which lower blood pressure levels.
The investigative team found that nitric oxide, which is found abundantly in skin, is involved in regulating blood pressure. When the skin is exposed to the sun, tiny amounts of this substance are transferred into the circulation from the skin, which has the effect of lowering blood vessel tone.
Important to balance possible positive effects with harmful effects of sun
While it’s still important to limit our exposure to sunlight to prevent against skin cancer, minimizing exposure too much might be detrimental in terms of increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is often linked to high blood pressure and accounts for 30% of deaths each year. Higher levels are seen in winter and in countries furthest from the equator, where the ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays is lowest.
The study involved 24 healthy subjects whose skin was exposed to UVA light emitted from tanning lamps for two sessions lasting twenty minutes. In one session participants were exposed to both heat from the lamps and the UVA rays from the light. In another session, subjects were only exposed to the heat from the lamps, with the UV rays blocked.
Results indicated that UVA exposure dilates the blood vessels, something shown to naturally lower blood pressure significantly. It alters levels of NO metabolite in the circulation without affecting the levels of Vitamin D. This appears to back up why there is seasonal variation of blood pressure at temperate latitudes.
Further research needed to assess sun’s effect on blood pressure
This study adds to the debate about the potential health benefits of sunlight, giving us pause for thought about the risks and benefits of exposure to the sun for health. Avoiding too much sun is recommended to prevent skin cancer. But lack of sun – perhaps out of fear or lifestyle – overlooks a potentially good way to naturally lower blood pressure and could actually increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
This interesting study suggests that exposure to UV light (sunlight) brings about an immediate reduction in blood pressure. Going forward we need to initiate further studies to look at the longer term effect of sunlight before any clinical application of UV light can be applied. While we wait for the results of forthcoming research concerning the sun’s ability to naturally lower blood pressure, it’s important to continue to incorporate known to be beneficial lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure. These include eating less salty foods, maintaining a good healthy weight, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly.
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