UV Light, Nitric Oxide, and Blood Pressure

Nitric oxide levels show up in a range of mechanisms linked to aging and general health, in particular those to do with blood vessel function. Here is an interesting study that may or may not be examining an example of hormesis, a beneficial response to very minor levels of damage caused by UV light, such as that in sunlight:

Researchers have shown that when our skin is exposed to the sun's rays, a compound is released in our blood vessels that helps lower blood pressure. The findings suggest that exposure to sunlight improves health overall, because the benefits of reducing blood pressure far outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer.

Production of this pressure-reducing compound - called nitric oxide - is separate from the body's manufacture of vitamin D, which rises after exposure to sunshine. Until now it had been thought to solely explain the sun's benefit to human health. [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 the UV 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. Scientists say that this shows that it is the sun's UV rays that lead to health benefits. The volunteers' vitamin D levels remained unaffected in both sessions.

"We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight. We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure. If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure."

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-05/uoe-scb050713.php

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