IT’S official – living in the south can be better for your health.
Southampton scientists have revealed that sunlight can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Experts from the University of Southampton have discovered that exposing skin to sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure, which can slash the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Research carried out at the universities of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure.
Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine and Integrative Biology at the University of Southampton, said: “When exposed to sunlight, small amounts of NO are transferred from the skin to the circulation, lowering blood vessel tone; as blood pressure drops, so does the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
While limiting sunlight exposure is important to prevent skin cancer, the authors of the study suggest that minimising exposure may increase the risk of conditions related to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, often associated with high blood pressure, accounts for 30 per cent of deaths globally each year.
Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are known to vary according to season and latitude, with higher levels observed in winter and in countries further from the equator, where ultraviolet radiation from the sun is lower.
During the study, the skin of 24 healthy individuals was exposed to ultraviolet (UVA) light from tanning lamps for two sessions of 20 minutes each.
In one session, the volunteers were exposed to both the UVA rays and the heat of the lamps. In another, the UV rays were blocked so that only the heat of the lamps affected the skin.
The results suggest that UVA exposure dilates blood vessels, significantly lowers blood pressure, and alters NO metabolite levels in the circulation, without changing vitamin D levels.
Professor Feelisch adds: “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.
“We believe that NO from the skin is an important, so far overlooked, contributor to cardiovascular health. In future studies we intend to test whether the effects hold true in a more chronic setting and identify new nutritional strategies targeted at maximizing the skin’s ability to store NO and deliver it to the circulation more efficiently.”