Background: High blood pressure (BP) is the leading risk factor for disability adjusted life years lost globally. Epidemiological data show a correlation between increased sun exposure and reduced population BP and cardiovascular mortality. Individuals with high serum vitamin D levels are at reduced risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, yet multiple trial data show that oral vitamin D supplementation has no effect on these endpoints. Sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancers, but no link has been shown with increased all-cause mortality. Cohort studies from Scandinavia show a dose-dependent fall in mortality with increased sun-seeking behaviour. Skin contains significant stores of nitrogen oxides, which can be converted to NO by UV radiation and exported to the systemic circulation. Human studies show that this pathway can cause arterial vasodilatation and reduced BP. Murine studies suggest the same mechanism may reduce metabolic syndrome.
Summary: Sunlight has beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors independently of vitamin D.
Key messages: All-cause mortality should be the primary determinant of public health messages. Sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer, but sun avoidance may carry more of a cost than benefit for overall good health.
© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel.