Lack of Sunshine as Bad as Smoking, Raises Blood Pressure
This is the generation of sun avoidance, and it’s killing us. Today, many are avoiding the sun for one reason or another. Whether we are hiding inside or wearing sunscreen to block the sun’s rays, the avoidance of the sun is not healthy. This isn’t just vitamin D either. We’re talking about blood pressure and heart disease from a lack of UVA rays.
Yes, the research is confirming the findings of my book on the topic: That a lack of sun exposure results in early death.
Not only that: The health consequences of a lack of sun exposure are similar to those produced by smoking.
More than 100 studies prove sun’s importance
A 2016 study published in the Journal Dermato-Endocrinology is a warning to those who don’t get enough sun. The study cites more than 100 studies demonstrating the benefits of sun exposure. That is, non-sunburn sun exposure.
The paper cites that many of the sun’s benefits are related to the vitamin D produced in the body from UVB exposure. But that’s not all the sun is good for according to the research. New findings show benefits from the sun unrelated to vitamin D.
Yes, the sun helps the body produce other substances. And a number of conditions – including heart conditions – are related to low levels of lifetime sun exposure.
Dr. David Hoel, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, led the research. He stated:
“The message of sun avoidance advocated by our government, and some within the medical community, should be changed immediately to a recommendation of regular non-burning sun exposure for most Americans.”
Sun avoidance has consequences, according to the research. Dr. Hoel added:
“The sun is essential for life and should be diligently pursued in moderation, not avoided.”
UVA sun exposure lowers blood pressure
Remember that UVB exposure is needed to produce vitamin D, which begins in the skin. This form of vitamin D is the most bioavailable and health-giving form, according to the research – as I discuss in my book and mention in this article.
The sun produces UVB wavelengths towards the middle of the day for those of us who live north or south of the equator. For those who live too far north, wintertime comes with little UVB exposure. So many conclude sun exposure isn’t necessary during the winter.
But the sun exposure produces UVA wavelengths all day.
Research led by Dr. Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine and Integrative Biology at the University of Southampton found that UVA rays have health benefits.
The researchers tested 24 people. They gave the subjects a series of 20-minute exposure tests. These included sunlamps with just UVA exposure and the sunlamps with all UV rays blocked.
The researchers found that the 20-minute UVA suntanning sessions significantly lowered their blood pressure. They also found that an important compound in the bloodstream was raised with UVA exposure: Nitric oxide.
In other research, nitric oxide has proved to help blood vessel health in many ways. It helps blood vessel flexibility, and helps widen the blood vessels.
Nitric oxide also helps stimulate the production of serotonin. Serotonin is an important compound for brain health. It also helps prevent mood disorders, including depression. This is one reason why sunshine exposure helps reduce seasonal affective disorder – also known as SAD.
The researchers eliminated the possibility of these effects being caused by the heat of the lamps. When the sunlamps’ UV rays were blocked, there were no such effects.
The researchers also tested levels of vitamin D in the subjects and found there was no rise in vitamin D. So the reduction in blood pressure had nothing to do with vitamin D levels.
Sunshine helps prevent cardiovascular disease
About 30 percent of all deaths around the world are related to cardiovascular disease. And high blood pressure is one of the reasons why people die from cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure is related to stiff, narrow blood vessels. When the blood vessels are narrower, they don’t allow for the same levels of circulation.
Other research has established that cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure are both related to location and season. Regions and seasons that offer greater sun exposure have lower levels of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Dr. Feelisch emphasized the relationship between sun exposure and higher nitric oxide levels:
“We believe that nitric oxide 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 nitric oxide and deliver it to the circulation more efficiently.”
This newfound relationship between UVA sun exposure and nitric oxide levels is just one reason for us to re-examine the importance of sun exposure:
“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,” Dr. Feelisch said.
Increased deaths related to lack of sun exposure
A recent study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet assessed deaths over 20 years among 29,518 Swedish women. They followed the women for 20 years and studied their sun exposure and death rates. They found that those women with more sun exposure habits had a reduced risk of dying.
Those women with greater sun exposure had less cardiovascular disease and reduced levels of cancer. They also had lower death rates from other causes.
The researchers calculated the magnitude of these effects. Compared with women with greater sun exposure, women with less sun exposure had a risk of early death similar to the difference between smoking and non-smoking.
The study was led by Pelle Lindqvist, MD, of Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Sweden. Dr. Lindqvist commented on the results of the study:
“We know in our population, there are three big lifestyle factors that endanger health: smoking, being overweight, and inactivity. Now we know there is a fourth — avoiding sun exposure.”
Sun avoidance means earlier deaths worldwide
This result – that avoiding sun exposure leads to early death equivalent to the increased risk of smoking – has many implications.
For one, it means that we need the sun to maintain health – regardless of the season. Secondly, billions are dying around the world due to a lack of sun exposure.
Vitamin D deficiency is only part of the issue. About 70 percent of people in the United States are deficient in vitamin D. The researchers calculated through their research that about 13 percent of all U.S. deaths – about 330,000 deaths per year – are likely related to vitamin D insufficiency.
In addition – as I showed in this article and as confirmed by the Dermato-Endocrinology study – vitamin D supplements do not replace sunshine.
As shown in the research above, a lack of sun encourages cardiovascular disease outside of vitamin D. So we must add CVD risk to the equation. This is a big number – with some 30 percent of deaths resulting from cardiovascular disease.
About 610,000 deaths in the U.S. are attributable to heart disease. We can then add the deaths related to vitamin D deficiency – 330,000. That gets us to over 900,000 deaths that are related, at least in part, to a lack of sun exposure.
That is double the approximately 450,000 U.S. deaths attributable to smoking.
So from both the population basis and from definitive research, we can arrive at the fact confirmed in multiple studies: Sun avoidance is at least as dangerous to our health as smoking.
Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University clarifies the misunderstanding about sun avoidance:
“Sunlight provides vitamin D, but it provides so much more. The UV from sunlight has other health benefits. Most public health agencies have ignored the indisputable evidence that sensible sun is good for you in moderation.”
Sunscreen use misunderstood
This brings us again to the question of sunscreens. I discuss the science of sunscreen ingredients in my book. But since most sunscreens will block both UVA and UVB rays, we can say with even more certainty that wearing sunscreen is dangerous to our health.
The exception is to avoid burning. Dr. Lindqvist explains the use of right and wrong uses of sunscreen:
“If you’re using it to be out longer in the sun, you’re using it in the wrong manner. If you are stuck on a boat and have to be out, it’s probably better to have sunscreen than not to have it.”
To clarify: If we are headed out into the sun to get some needed sun exposure, sunscreen isn’t needed until and unless we are at risk of getting a sunburn. Up until that time, sunscreen is interfering with something we need to stay healthy.
Lindqvist PG, Epstein E, Nielsen K, Landin-Olsson M, Ingvar C, Olsson H. Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: a competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. J Intern Med. 2016 Oct;280(4):375-87. doi: 10.1111/joim.12496.
David G. Hoel, Marianne Berwick, Frank R. de Gruijl & Michael F. Holick. The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermato-Endocrinology, Oct 2016. 8:1, e1248325, DOI: 10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325.
Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure. University of Southhampton. Accessed Nov. 21, 2016.
Adams C. Healthy Sun. Healing with Sunshine and the Myths About Skin Cancer. Logical Books, 2012, 2015.