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Tanning Healthy? UV Light Lowers Blood Pressure, Protects Against Heart Disease: A Study

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May 08, 2013 01:54 PM EDT
Tanning Salon
(Photo : Reuters)

UV light may help reduce blood pressure and cut the risk of both heart attacks and strokes, according to a study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

Specifically, the scientists showed that when a person’s skin is exposed to sunlight, a compound called nitric oxide is released in the blood vessels where it helps to lower his or her blood pressure.

The study included 24 volunteers who sat beneath tanning lamps for two sessions of 20 minutes each.

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In one session, the volunteers were exposed to both the UV rays and the heat of the lamps, whereas in the other the UV rays were blocked and the participants’ skin was only exposed to the lamps' heat.

Sure enough, the results showed that blood pressure dropped significantly for one hour following exposure to the first, but not the latter.

Scientists pointed to this as evidence that it is in fact the Sun’s UV rays causing the release of the depressurizing compound, noting in a press release issued by the university that the participants’ vitamin D levels remained unaffected in both sessions.

Because heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure are higher on the list when it comes to causes of death than skin cancer, the study’s researchers posit that the newly-discovered health benefits may actually outweigh the risks of UV exposure.

The American Cancer Society estimates that melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will likely account for more than 76,000 cases of skin cancer in 2013. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2011 there were 26.5 million non-institutionalized adults in the United States living with heart disease.

Furthermore, the study’s researchers estimate that heart disease and strokes related to high blood pressure are 80 times more deadly than skin cancer among those living in the United Kingdom.

“We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer,” Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology, said. “The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight.”

Going forward, Weller said he and his team plan on examining the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in recipients of different amounts of sun exposure.

“If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes,” Weller added, “we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure.”

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