We’ve all been warned from an early age about the risks of the sun’s rays.  While it is true that over exposure can significantly increase your chance of developing skin cancer, there are also several benefits associated with exposure to sunlight.

A growing body of research shows that vitamin D is required for the growth and repair of bones and that it is essential for immune functions. Vitamin D is synthesised by our bodies in the presences of sunlight. Lack of sunlight can therefore lead to vitamin D deficiencies and several problems, one example being Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression caused by lack of sunlight.

New research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology also shows how sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure. The study carried out at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh looked at the effect of sunlight on nitric oxide (NO) in our skin and blood. The study found that when exposed to sunlight, some of the NO in our skin is transferred to our circulation, which lowers blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Collectively heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter of deaths in the UK and so this research is directly relevant to most of us. As is further research which will aim to identify new nutritional strategies targeted at maximizing the skin’s ability to store NO and deliver it to the circulation more efficiently.

Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine and Integrative Biology at the University of Southampton, comments: “These results are significant to the ongoing debate about potential health benefits of sunlight and the role of Vitamin D in this process. It may be an opportune time to reassess the risks and benefits of sunlight for human health and to take a fresh look at current public health advice. Avoiding excess sunlight exposure is critical to prevent skin cancer, but not being exposed to it at all, out of fear or as a result of a certain lifestyle, could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Perhaps with the exception of bone health, the effects of oral vitamin D supplementation have been disappointing.”

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