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The Catalyst

Study: Sunlight tied to lower blood pressure

Exposing skin to sunlight may help reduce blood pressure, cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, and even prolong life, according to a small study out of the University of Edinburgh.

Researchers studied the blood pressure of 24 volunteers who sat beneath tanning lamps for two sessions of 20 minutes each. In one session, the volunteers were exposed to both ultraviolet rays and the heat of the lamps. In the other, the UV rays were blocked so that only the heat of the lamps affected the skin.

The results showed that blood pressure dropped significantly for one hour following exposure to UV rays but not after the heat-only sessions. UV light exposure may lead to the production of nitric oxide, a compound that lowers blood pressure, the researchers said. While vitamin D has been thought of as the primary health benefit of the sun, the researchers found volunteers' vitamin D levels were not affected during both test sessions.

The researchers concluded that since heart disease and stroke kill 80 times more people than skin cancer in the U.K., where the study took place, the blood pressure benefits from sunlight outweigh the risks for skin cancer.

Critics point to the lack of sustained blood pressure reduction and recommend following evidence-based methods such as those suggested by the American Heart Association: Taking prescription medications to lower blood pressure, eating a healthy diet, reducing salt intake, avoiding obesity, not smoking and limiting alcohol use. There is also a more skin-friendly way to reduce those numbers: eating foods that are rich in polyphenol, such as dark chocolate and tea.

June 19, 2013

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