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
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
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

    Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

    C++ Quant Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

    Java/Calypso Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

    SQL Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York