Sun Exposure Benefits May Outweigh Risks Say Scientists

Scientists at the UnIversity of Edinburgh in the UK suggest that the heart-health benefits of sun exposure may outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer.

In the landmark study, the researchers found that when sunlight touches our skin, a compound called nitric oxide that helps lower blood pressure, is released into our blood vessels.

Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology, and colleagues, say the effect is such that overall, sun exposure could improve health and even prolong life, because the benefits of reducing blood pressure, cutting heart attacks and strokes, far outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer.

The proof-of-principle study is being presented this week in Edinburgh at International Investigative Dermatology 2013, the world’s largest gathering of skin experts.

The abstract was published online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology on 15 April.

The researchers note that rates of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease rise in winter and are tied to geographic latitude (for instance they are higher in northern Europe than in southern Europe).

Also, estimates show that in northern Europe, for every death from skin cancer, about 60 to 100 people die of stroke and heart disease linked to high blood pressure.

This new study is important because until now it was thought that sunlight’s only benefit to human health was production of vitamin D, which rises after exposure to the sun.

Previous studies have found that while increased vitamin D levels link to lower cardiovascular disease, oral supplements do not have an effect on this.

Weller and colleagues found that the body’s production of nitric oxide is separate from production of vitamin D.

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