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Aside from helping the skin make vitamin D, researchers have found another beneficial chemical the skin releases in response to sunlight. And it’s a natural substance that could save your life.
Research performed at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight influences levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood. NO reduces blood pressure and makes blood vessel walls relax. Those actions protect your heart health.
Researcher Martin Feelisch says: “NO along with its breakdown products, known to be abundant in skin, is involved in the regulation of blood pressure. When exposed to sunlight, small amounts of NO are transferred from the skin to the circulation, lowering blood vessel tone; as blood pressure drops, so does the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
The study indicates that ultraviolet light from the sun called UVA helps dilate blood vessels, significantly drops blood pressure and changes NO metabolite levels in the blood without affecting vitamin D levels.
“We believe that NO from the skin is an important, so far overlooked contributor to cardiovascular health. In future studies we intend to test whether the effects hold true in a more chronic setting and identify new nutritional strategies targeted at maximizing the skin’s ability to store NO and deliver it to the circulation more efficiently,” says Feelisch.
The lack of sun in the winter, the researchers believe, may explain why blood pressure goes up in the colder months and the risk of heart problems also climbs.