Could the key to everlasting youth be found in sunshine rays? That may be a stretch, but researchers say they have produced findings that suggest sunshine exposure can improve one's overall health.
According to the study, heart disease and stroke in relation to high blood pressure kill 80 times more people than skin cancer in the UK.
A research team from the University of Edinburgh set out to determine the healthy benefits of the sun's rays on our skin.
In the end, they found that getting an adequate amount of sunshine can cut cardiovascular risk such as a heart attack or stroke, moderate blood pressure levels, and ultimately prolong life.
"We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer," said Dr. Richard Weller, senior lecturer in dermatology at the University of Edinburgh.
"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."
Dr. Weller and his colleagues marked the blood pressure levels of 24 volunteers participating in the study.
The first part of the study asked participants to sit under a tanning lamp where they were exposed to UV rays for 20 minutes. The second part asked them to stand under the same tanning lamp; however, this time the UV rays were blocked so that the lamp's heat was the only thing hitting the skin.
Results showed that blood pressure levels were substantially reduced after UV exposure and stayed the same after the 20 minute session of lamp heat. Surprisingly, the participant's vitamin D levels were not altered during either session.
This drop in blood pressure is attributed to the release of nitric oxide, a compound that drops blood pressure levels when released into blood vessels.
"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," said Dr. Weller.
"If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure."
The group's findings will be presented at the world's largest gathering of skin experts on Friday in Edinburgh.