Getting a Tan Could Be Good For Your Heart?

With summer on the horizon, stores have been stocking up on sunscreen in a tacit reminder that too much time in the sun can be deadly. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., with more than 68,000 Americans diagnosed with melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer) every year and another 48,000 thousand diagnosed with an earlier form of the disease. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetimes; areas of the skin that are most exposed to the sun are most at risk.

Given all this, why are some scientists suggesting that the benefits of time in the sun “outweigh the risk of skin cancer”?

Scientists from Edinburgh University have conducted a small study suggesting that exposure to sunlight, and to ultraviolet (UV) rays, can help to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk for heart attacks and strokes and, even, prolong one’s life.

Richard Weller, a senior lecturer in dermatology at Edinburgh University, and other researchers conducted a study in which 24 volunteers were exposed to UV rays and tanning lamps. In one session, they were exposed to both the UV rays and the heat of the lamps. In another session, the UV rays were blocked and the participants’ skin exposed only to the heat.

The participants’ blood pressure was then measured and found to drop “significantly” with exposure to the UV rays, but not after the session in which they were exposed only to heat. Scientists note that the UV rays express a compound, nitric oxide, that lowers blood pressure.

In the U.K., heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure are believed to lead to about 80 times more deaths than skin cancer. In the U.S., the American Cancer Society estimates that melanoma will account for more than 76,000 cases of skin cancer in 2013. By way of comparison, about 600,000 people die of heart disease and about 715,000 have a heart attack every year in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart disease is the reason for 1 in 4 deaths among Americans.

Previously, production of vitamin D was thought to be the only health benefit of humans from the sun. The study suggests that simply taking a dietary supplement of vitamin D does not compensate for exposure to sunlight.

Dr. Weller is presenting his findings at the annual meeting of the†International Investigative Dermatology and plans to continue his research “to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure.” Should his work confirm that sunlight might “[reduce] the death rate from all causes,” he notes that “we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure.”

As the CDC notes, “about†65 percent Ė90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure” to UV light. May has been dubbed Cancer Research Month and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month (and May 24 has been named “Don’t Fry Day”). Certainly, it’s probably wise not to under-emphasize the risks that excessive exposure to UV rays can cause and the reality of having melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

If you’re fair (like my Irish-on-both-sides-of-his-family husband), it’s definitely prudent to (as my husband does throughout the year) apply the sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group offers a guide to sunscreens and notes some hormone-disrupting compounds that you might wish to avoid. After taking some precautions, it can be good in more ways than you might realize to get out into the great outdoors and enjoy the warmth of the sun.

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Photo from Thinkstock


Jose L.
Jose L.4 years ago

Vitamin D is powerful stuff. It's not 1 small study. There is a growing number of significant studies. It kills cancer cells in a petri dish and large doses have allowed recovery of significant fraction of cancers and other maladies. By itself, it has a more effective rate than traditional medicine in various categories. It is great for cancer prevention, for diabetes, for various heart and nerve conditions, and generally for the body to function in a healthy fashion. And with low quantities, your body will ache, you will have trouble sleeping/healing (very important) and your bones will suffer (I have experienced this firsthand several times right at the end of Winter before I knew the culprit). It sets into motion a large array of genes in many of our cells (including defense/antibody). Statistics do support that this is one of the best preventive mechanisms for cancers and other maladies.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you are sick, you will consume it quickly and will need large doses. If you have more fat, you will require more. And if you are *very low* and have a modest dose through supplements or even sun, you may very well feel short term chest pains (I suspect this is because of nerve cells near the heart that are triggered because one part is in low serum D still and the other end is getting a rush of D, intestines to liver to heart). And if you are dark skinned, you will need much heavier doses of sun (or take supplements). Light skin need the equivalen

AnimalWhisperer Rosi

Everything in moderation is always the key to balance within all things, but a cautionary tale needs a mention here; as follows. The mother of a young very active sporty child smothered him with factor 50 sunblock, each time he went outside (which was a considerable number of times within his day to day routine). The young boy complained of leg pains from the age of three years old, which was of course put down to "growing pains" with no further investigation taking place. Within two years, before he was six years old, this child developed Rickets, brought about, it was then discovered (though it took a while for the medics to grasp this concept) by the fact of the sunblock, cutting out the absorption of vitamin D, as well as the other potentially harmful substances derived from too much unprotected exposure time in the sun. Vitamin D, of course playing the vital role in the absorption of Calcium within the body, caused the Rickets! The Rickets were treated though the progress was slow, and a very valuable lesson learned by all who are now aware of this fact. Please share far and wide, as these facts are still relatively unknown.

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Again, common sense on time in sun & sun screens.

Alicia Westberry
Alicia Westberry4 years ago

A little sun is good for a person. However, I'm not really sure I believe the claims of this, admittedly, "small study".

Elsie O.
Elsie O4 years ago

I think the key is moderation and not exposing the same parts of your body to sunlight all the time. Vary the locations that get exposed to sun -- and not for too long, especially for the fair-skinned.

Rebecca L.
Rebecca L.4 years ago

I've never believed "there is no such thing as a healthy tan". Of course it is healthy to get some sunlight. It helps with depression. And being outside usually means getting some exercise. I wear sunscreen as much as possible but otherwise I am not preoccupied with "getting a tan" or with avoiding all sunlight. For me that's been a healthy attitude. For people with very pale skin or a genetic predisposition for melanoma, it's totally different.

Edith B.
Edith B4 years ago

Well, I have heart disease and skin cancer in my family history so this poses a dilemma. Since more people are dying from heart disease than skin cancer I think I will continue to work outside when I can. I do wear sunscreen though.

Don Swanz
Don Swanz4 years ago

For everyone out there who absolutely INSISTS ON TANNING - I don't - please, please use a very high SPF sun screen/block. Google "sun screen organic" and take your pick. Remember "ORGANIC" and NOT NATURAL. Enjoy the summer. Don :-))

Pam B.
Pamela M4 years ago

The reason the sun reduces strokes/heart attacks is because it thins the blood.

Jink Huge
Jink H4 years ago

I have to have sun exposure daily but when I go to the beach I always use non toxic sunblock. (Like from Arbonne)