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

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down up to three percent, while US market indexes were off around 2.5 percent in afternoon trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs