Sun exposure reduces risk of heart disease. High cholesterol levels are associated with vascular diseases such as heart disease, ischemic stroke and intermittent claudication (an occlusion of the arteries of the legs that leads to pain and disability). The authors of a recent study compared the effects of vitamin D supplementation with sun exposure to determine which was more effective in reducing risk factors. A group of individuals with insufficient serum vitamin D levels was divided into two groups with different experimental protocols: one was treated with sun exposure to the arms and face between 11 AM and 3 PM and the other was treated with 1,000 IU of vitamin D. A third group had “normal” vitamin D levels and served as a control (no treatment group). Total cholesterol levels and its components of cholesterol, HDL and LDL, were also measured to determine the positive (or negative) effects of the two treatment protocols.
The results were enlightening. Both experimental groups had significant increases in vitamin D. However, the results with cholesterol varied. A significant decrease in total cholesterol was noted in the sun-exposure group, and HDL and LDL also decreased in the sun-exposure group. However, in the vitamin D-supplement group, a significant increase was noted in in total cholesterol. HDL also increased significantly, and LDL increased non-significantly.
In other words, vitamin D supplementation could actually lead to an increased risk of vascular diseases by raising total cholesterol, whereas sun exposure is protective against those diseases. So the takeaway is that there is no substitute for the sun when it comes to providing some protection against vascular diseases.
There are those people who worry that melanoma risk may be increased by regular sun exposure. However, we have mentioned many time in this blog that melanoma is much more common among those who work indoors than those who work outdoors. It should also be mentioned that vascular diseases kill far more people than skin cancer. Dr. Richard perhaps said it best:
“Sunlight may have beneficial cardiovascular effects, independently of Vitamin D production. Vitamin D could, in these circumstances, act as a marker for sunlight exposure and its postulated beneficial effects. These recent human data show the physiological relevance of photorelaxation. High blood pressure is the leading cause of disability-adjusted life years lost worldwide and as a risk factor underlies 18% of all deaths.” Weller further noted: “The action spectrum of nitrite release shows ultraviolet B is also involved in nitrite reduction to Nitric Oxide, and thus sunlight may be more effective than a pure UVA source.” He concluded: “the prevalence of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular deaths is around 100 times higher than those from skin cancer. Interventions leading to small changes in the incidence of cardiovascular disease are thus of greater benefit to the health of the public even than large changes in skin cancer incidence.”
Safely embrace the sun and your heart, brain and blood vessels will love you for it!
 Patwardhan VG, Mughal ZM, Padidela R, Chiplonkar SA, Khadilkar VV, Khadilkar AV. Randomized Control Trial Assessing Impact of Increased Sunlight Exposure versus Vitamin D Supplementation on Lipid Profile in Indian Vitamin D Deficient Men. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2017 May-Jun;21(3):393-398.
 Weller R. The health benefits of UV radiation exposure through vitamin D production or non-vitamin D
Pathways. Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Photochem. Photobiol. Sci. 2016.