British researchers found exposure to sunlight can help lower blood pressure.
They found is that nitric oxide stored in the top layers of the skin reacts to sunlight and causes blood vessels to widen as the oxide moves into the bloodstream. Which then lowers blood pressure.
The team analyzed 24 volunteers who were exposed to ultraviolet (UVA) light from tanning lamps for two 20-minute sessions.
In one session, the volunteers were exposed to both the UVA rays and the heat of the lamps.
In the second, the UV was blocked so that only the heat of the lamps affected the skin.
“This is a mild effect,” lead researcher Martin Feelisch, a professor of experimental medicine and integrative biology at the University of Southampton said. “But if you repeat this study in people with high blood pressure, I would predict you will see a more substantial drop.”
The findings back up data about blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, which are known to vary according to season and latitude.
“We found when we exposed [the subjects’] skin to UV light on one side of the body in amounts that would correspond to roughly half an hour of sunshine during summer in southern Europe, that we find a lower blood pressure,” he told AM.
“Small amounts of NO (nitric oxide) are transferred from the skin to the circulation, lowering blood vessel tone,” said Feelisch. “As blood pressure drops, so does the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
“This is an unexpected finding, in that the skin has not been considered to be involved in blood pressure regulation,” added Feelisch.
The study doesn’t suggest people to sunbathe or use tanning beds in hopes of lowering blood pressure, however; what he recommends is spending an appropiate amount of time outdoors.
“People are dying of skin cancer, and sunlight is the only known risk factor that contributes to skin cancer,” Feelisch said. “We are fully aware of that and don’t say everyone should get as much sun as possible. There is a very real risk — but so is the risk for [heart] disease. One of the main contributors to the disease is high blood pressure.”
While excessive exposure to sunlight rises the risk of skin cancer, Feelisch said, too little might increase the risk of heart disease. However, more people die from heart disease than from skin cancer, he said.
“We believe current public health advice, which is dominated by concerns of skin cancer, needs to be carefully reassessed,” he said. “It’s time to look at the balance of risk for skin cancer and cardiovascular disease.”
Further studies are needed to determine at what degree of light exposure might play a role in regulating blood pressure and reducing heart risk, he said.
The study was published Jan. 20 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
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