Sunbathing may be better for us than previously thought, as new research claims that it might help lower blood pressure

Nearly a third of adults in England suffer from high blood pressure

Health Reporter

Medical advice on the risks and benefits of sunbathing may need to be rewritten, scientists have claimed, amid new evidence that sunlight may lower blood pressure – reducing the risk of serious heart disease.

While the association between overexposure to ultraviolet (UVA) light and skin cancer is beyond doubt, experts now claim that avoiding sunlight “out of fear” may be increasing our risk of cardiovascular diseases – including heart attacks and strokes – for which high blood pressure is a key risk factor.

In a study carried out by the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh, scientists investigated the role of a molecule, nitric oxide (NO) found in the skin and in the blood, which is involved with the regulation of blood pressure.

When exposed to sunlight, small amounts of NO are transferred from the skin, into the blood stream. Using a small sample of 24 people, they found that exposure to UVA light for 20 minutes dilates the blood vessels and significantly lowers blood pressure.

It is already well-known that blood pressure tends to be lower in summer than in winter, and there is also evidence to suggest that rates of high blood pressure increase in countries further away from the equator.

While acknowledging that more studies would be needed to confirm the effect, Professor Martin Feelisch of the University of Southampton said the case for reviewing public health messages was growing.

“While excess exposure to sunlight is a very real risk, too little may be another risk that has never been on the map,” said Professor Feelisch. “Avoidance of exposure to sunlight because of either fear of skin cancer or for lifestyle related reasons may contribute to a slightly higher blood pressure.”

“The current public health advice is dominated by well-founded concerns about skin cancer. If our findings hold true [in wider studies] it may be an opportune time to reassess the balance of health benefits and risks of sun exposure. At the moment we can only speculate, but a few millimetres of mercury could make a hell of a difference,” he told The Independent.

Nearly a third of all adults in England have high blood pressure – a key risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Among the more established causes are being overweight, an inactive lifestyle and a poor diet. With more than 161,000 deaths from heart and circulatory diseases per year in the UK alone, any health benefits from something so simple as soaking up sunlight could have significant implications. By contrast, skin cancers around 2,800 people in the UK each year.

However, Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said it was too to make any firm judgements about sunlight’s role in regulating blood pressure.

“Though intriguing, much more work needs to be done to find out whether seasonal changes in blood pressure can really be attributed to exposure to sunshine, and what the practical implications could be,” he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

    £15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

    Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

    £250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

    Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

    £30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home