I have always been fascinated with the health benefits of humans interacting with nature the way we are supposed to.
Of course when I came across a scientific publication by Richard Weller, from the Medical Research Council Center for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh I was compelled to share it, “Sunlight has Cardiovascular Benefits Independent of Vitamin D.”
Data from both observational studies and population data suggests that sunlight exposure can reduce mortality and it is particularly beneficial for people at risk for cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Initially, studies showed that individuals with low vitamin D (which requires the sun for your body to synthesize it) had a higher risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome which is a combination of abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, higher triglyercides and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.
Clinical trials however, studying the effects of vitamin D supplementation alone have not shown a substantial reduction or prevention of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
So maybe vitamin D is only part of the story?
Studies have now demonstrated that the skin (the dermis and epidermis) can contain significant stores of nitrogen oxides particularly nitrate. Through a sequence of reductions nitrates are reduced to nitric oxide (NO) in the presence of ultraviolet radiation. The skin provides a beautiful transport of NO into our vascular system which in turn is responsible for a reduction in blood pressure through vasodilation, and a rise in heart rate.
Dr. Weller’s article reports that metabolic syndrome and diabetes have a lower prevalence in the summer than in the winter. This fact was further substantiated with mouse studies where UV doses twice weekly produced reduced weight gain and reduced signs of metabolic syndrome.
Obviously, given the rise of skin cancers there great concern regarding sun exposure but maybe this risk will need to be balanced. Sun avoidance may cause other health risks that are more intimately linked to our mortality (cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome).
I think there is a strong message in this research that is quite simple. Get outside into nature and the sun it will benefit your overall health and may help you live longer.
Richard Weller’s work has also been presented in the TED Talk below. Please view his fascinating research!