By Marc Sorenson, EdD. Sunlight Institute… promoting safe sun exposure…
It has long been known that vitamin D deficiency is associated with hypertension. But could that association really be a measurement of inadequate sun exposure? A most interesting investigation was carried out this month (July 2016) in which the researchers evaluated over 1100 subjects from an ongoing study called “the Reasons for Racial and Geographic Differences in Stroke.” They measured vitamin D levels and also assessed sun exposure levels, and found that both high vitamin D levels and high sun exposure levels were associated with higher blood pressure.
What makes this research different is that when the data was adjusted for other factors, high sun exposure was even more impressive as a protective factor against high blood pressure. However, adjusting for vitamin D levels had no effect on the association of sun exposure to lower blood pressure; for each increase in sun exposure, there was a corresponding decrease in blood pressure, but the same was not true for increases or decreases in vitamin D levels.
The researchers made this statement: “We conclude that although 25(OH)D concentration is inversely associated with SBP, it did not explain the association of greater sunlight exposure with lower BP.”
To me, this research indicates that sun exposure directly effects lower blood pressure levels, independently of vitamin D. This is not surprising, since clinical trials of vitamin D supplementation have found only small effects on blood pressure.
I hypothesize that nitric oxide (NO), is the mechanism by which sun exerts its impressive effects. NO is a potent vasodilator, and when it is released into the arteries by UVA stimulation, causes increased blood flow and lowers blood pressure.  Dr. Oplander and his colleagues wrote the first paper on the UVA, NO and blood pressure in 2009, and Dr. Richard Weller has been a leader in doing research and granting interviews on NO since that time. He has made two interesting statements: (1) “We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sun will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sun.” (2) “Although the benefits of sun are often attributed to vitamin D, a gas called nitric oxide is also important. Made when the sun hits our skin, nitric oxide lowers blood pressure when it enters the bloodstream. Although the reduction is small, it could ‘make a big difference.”
A study from China also demonstrates that exposure to sun correlates to a lowered risk of hypertension. In a randomly selected population of Chinese residents from Macau (where the rate of hypertension is very high), the following risk factors for hypertension were assessed: lack of sun exposure, low intake of fish, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise. An average of more than one-half hour of sun exposure per day compared to none predicted a 40% reduced risk for hypertension.
Vitamin D has many marvelous health effects, but sun exposure per se has many more, because not only does the sun stimulate the production on vitamin D, it also produces other vital photoproducts such as NO, endorphins and serotonin. When we avoid the sun and simply take a vitamin D pill, we are short-changing ourselves for the total package of benefits derived from the sun. And in the case of high blood pressure, we may be receiving almost no benefit from vitamin D. Think about it, and enjoy the sun safely.
 Rostand SG, McClure LA, Kent ST, Judd SE, Gutiérrez OM. Associations of blood pressure, sunlight, and vitamin D in community-dwelling adults. J Hypertens. 2016 Jul 1. [Epub ahead of print]
 Beveridge LA, Struthers AD, Khan F, Jorde R, Scragg R, Macdonald HM, Alvarez JA, Boxer RS. Et. al. Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Incorporating Individual Patient Data. AMA Intern Med. 2015 May;175(5):745-54.
 Liu D, Fernandez BO, Hamilton A, Lang NN, Gallagher JM, Newby DE, Feelisch M, Weller RB. UVA irradiation of human skin vasodilates arterial vasculature and lowers blood pressure independently of nitric oxide synthase. J Invest Dermatol. 2014 Jul;134(7):1839-46.
 D Liu, BO Fernandez, NN Lang, JM Gallagher, DE Newby, M Feelisch and RB Weller. UVA lowers blood pressure and vasodilates the systemic arterial vasculature by mobilization of cutaneous nitric oxide stores. Photobiology Abstract # 1247 May 2013.
 Opländer C, Volkmar CM, Paunel-Görgülü A, van Faassen EE, Heiss C, Kelm M, Halmer D, Mürtz M, Pallua N, Suschek CV.. Whole body UVA irradiation lowers systemic blood pressure by release of nitric oxide from intracutaneous photolabile nitric oxide derivates. Circ Res. 2009;105:1031–40.
 Quoted on Mercola.com http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/15/sun-exposure.aspx accessed July 2, 2015.
 Weller, R. Shunning the sun may be killing you in more ways than you think. New Scientist July 2, 2015.
 Ke L, Ho J, Feng J, Mpofu E, Dibley MJ, Feng X, Van F, Leong S, Lau W, Lueng P, Kowk C, Li Y, Mason RS, Brock KE. Modifiable risk factors including sun exposure and fish consumption are associated with risk of hypertension in a large representative population from Macau. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2013 Nov 1 [Epub ahead of print].