New study suggests that sunlight exposure can slow down the development of obesity and diabetes.
Researchers of the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, Western Australia, together with their colleagues from the Universities of Edinburgh and Southampton, found that mice that had consumed large amounts of food experienced a deceleration in weight gain, when exposed to ultraviolet radiation. The experimental animals showed fewer warning signs of diabetes, such as abnormal glucose levels and insulin resistance.
At the same time, vitamin D, which is produced by the body after exposure to sunlight and has been shown by numerous studies to have many beneficial health properties, did not appear to play a role against diabetes and weight gain.
According to Dr. Shelley Gorman, lead author of the study from the Telethon Kids Institute, these “findings are important as they suggest that casual skin exposure to sunlight, together with plenty of exercise and a healthy diet, may help prevent the development of obesity in children.”
The benefits of sunlight exposure were associated with nitric oxide, which is produced by the skin after exposure to ultraviolet rays. The researchers came to this conclusion when it was found that the application of a cream containing nitric oxide to the skin of the mice had the same effect of reducing the weight gain as the exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
The researchers write in the journal «Diabetes», where the study was published, that the new findings add to previous research, which suggests that exposure to sunlight can have significant health benefits. Previous studies have concluded that nitric oxide can lower blood pressure in people after exposure to UV lamps.
Dr. Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University of Southampton and a member of the research team, added that “these observations further indicate that the amounts of nitric oxide released from the skin may have beneficial effects not only on heart and blood vessels but also on the way our body regulates metabolism.”
However, the researchers note that further studies are needed to confirm if there is a similar effect of solar radiation in humans. It has to do with the fact that mice are nocturnal animals and their body is covered with fur, so they are not frequently exposed to sunlight. So it is not clear yet if the effect would be the same in humans.
Dr. Colin Michie, chairman of the nutrition committee at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “It raises critical questions for us humans – are the effects the same in our children and ourselves, and, if so, can they be applied to prevent obesity, treat metabolic syndrome and save vast amounts of pharmacological treatment? Perhaps it is just a little sunshine that we require.”
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