News / Health

Study: Tanning Might Be Addictive

Sunbathers crowd the Ostia beach west of Rome on June 8, 2014.
Sunbathers crowd the Ostia beach west of Rome on June 8, 2014.
Jessica Berman
Why do some people spend so much time in the sun, despite knowing that excessive exposure puts them at risk for skin cancer?
 
A new study suggests they are addicted to ultraviolet light, whether from the sun or tanning beds. UV light raises levels of beta-endorphins, so-called "feel good" chemicals in the body.
 
Beta-endorphins, the body's natural opioids, are stimulated by drugs such as heroin and cocaine. They are also released into the bloodstream by smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, encouraging the addictive behavior.
 
Researchers have found that ultraviolet light may stimulate the same protein pathway, causing a slavish devotion to sunbathing or regular trips to the tanning parlor.
 
Every day, for six weeks, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital exposed a group of shaved mice to UV light that was the equivalent of spending 20 to 30 minutes in the midday Florida sun. The dose of ultraviolet light was calculated to induce skin tanning but not sunburn.
 
Dermatologist David Fisher, director of the Cutaneous Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General in Boston, led the study, which found that blood levels of beta-endorphin rose significantly in the exposed mice.
 
Fisher says the beta-endorphin molecule acts like an anesthetic so that mice exposed to ultraviolet did not respond to light touch or heat, compared to control animals. When the exposed mice were given a drug that blocked the natural opioid pathway, they became agitated and began shaking and squeaking through chattering teeth.
 
Addicted to light

It appeared that the mice, like drug addicts, had become hooked on UV light.
 
Fisher said the UV exposure resulted "in behavioral changes, in addiction, in withdrawal symptoms. And this suggests that ultraviolet radiation can have significant opiate-like effects in a broad sense – probably in many species, not only in laboratory mice."
 
The exposure "perhaps may underlie some of the dangerous consequences of UV radiation in man," Fisher added.
 
Sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D, a nutrient essential for skeletal formation and bone strength. Fisher said it's possible the addictive nature of sunbathing is a throwback to prehistoric times when sunlight was the only source of vitamin D and periods of daylight were short. 
 
Could taking vitamin D supplements, which are cheap and easily available today, treat a sunbathing addiction?
 
"We don't know," Fisher said. "Could it be that vitamin D itself participates in some of these behavioral effects? That's a very interesting speculation. It happens to be something we are looking at at the same time."
 
The study suggesting the potential addictiveness of ultraviolet sunlight is published in the journal Cell.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs