Sun Exposure Releases Endorphins

endorphinsIt’s summertime! However, watch how long you soak up that sun!

A new mouse study has found that continuous exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes the release of endorphins, known as feel-good hormones, leading to physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction-like behavior.[1] This could explain why people have an instinctive desire to be in the sun, despite its known health risks.1

“This information might serve as a valuable means of educating people to curb excessive sun exposure in order to limit skin cancer risk, as well as accelerated skin aging that occurs with repeated sun exposure,” said David Fisher, MD, PhD, or Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “Our findings suggest that the decision to protect our skin or the skin of our children may require more of a conscious effort rather than a passive preference.”1

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.1 Those who seek out the sun and UV rays through tanning beds often meet the clinical criteria for a substance-related disorder, said the researchers.1

UV exposure stimulates the production of endorphins which relieve pain by activating opioid receptors through the same pathway activated by prescription painkillers, morphine, and heroin.1

“It’s surprising that we’re genetically programmed to become addicted to something as dangerous as UV radiation, which is probably the most common carcinogen in the world,” said Fisher. “We suspect that the explanation involves UV’s contribution to vitamin D synthesis in the skin. However, in the current time, there are much safer and more reliable sources of vitamin D that do not come with carcinogenic risk, so there is real health value in avoiding sunlight as a source of vitamin D.”1

[1] Wood, J. (2014). Mouse Study Finds Sun Exposure Releases Endorphins. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/06/21/mouse-study-finds-sun-exposure-releases-endorphins/71511.html

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