Marc Sorenson, EdD, Sunlight Institute.
Anything that causes arterial plugging or prevents the relaxation of blood vessels can contribute to cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Poor diet, little exercise and lack of sunlight exposure form a combination that devastates vessel health and reduces the flexibility of those vessels. Among the CVD are ischemic heart disease, intermittent claudication (painful oxygen restriction to the legs), ischemia of the brain leading to strokes, peripheral artery disease and erectile dysfunction. Yes, I said erectile dysfunction.
ED is considered one of the major predictors of CVD.[i] It is caused by inability of the corpus cavernosa, two cylindrical chambers that run the length of the penis, to become engorged with blood, causing erection. When the process takes place normally, the cavernosa are stimulated by nitric oxide (NO), they then relax, and blood flows into the penis, allowing erection to take place. Therefore, erection is a vascular event.[ii] The same effect is seen in blood pressure decreases caused by NO after sunlight exposure. Ultraviolet A (UVA) light stimulation of the skin causes the release of NO from pre-formed stores of NO in the skin. NO is a potent vasodilator, and when it is released into the arteries by UVA stimulation, causes increased blood flow and lowers blood pressure.[iii] The mechanism is much the same in both instances. This is another example of sunlight enhancing health without the benefit of vitamin D. UVA light, that stimulates nitric oxide release, does not stimulate the skin to produce vitamin D.
An early study assessed the affect of ultraviolet light (UV) exposure to cavernosal strips, which were obtained from men during penile prosthetic surgery.[iv] The strips showed relaxation in response to UV, and the relaxation increased with the duration of exposure. We expect that sunbathing, which would profoundly increase NO in the circulation, would also vasodilate the cavernosa to allow erection. The same nitric oxide mechanism that lowers blood pressure, would seem to be a good method to treat ED. After all, drugs for ED, such as Viagra and Cialis, work by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide.[v] Sunlight is free and is a much better choice.
[i] Pastuszak AW, Hyman DA, Yadav N, Godoy G, Lipshultz LI, Araujo AB, Khera M. Erectile dysfunction as a marker for cardiovascular disease diagnosis and intervention: a cost analysis. J Sex Med 2015 Apr;12(4):975-84.
[ii] Marc Sorenson and William B. Grant. Does vitamin D deficiency contribute to erectile dysfunction? Dermatoendocrinol 2012 Apr 1; 4(2): 128–136.
[iii] 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.
[iv] Kim SC, Oh CH, Park JK, Lee MY, Uhm DY. Effects of ultraviolet light on the tension of isolated human cavernosal smooth muscle from non-diabetic and diabetic impotent men. Urol Res. 1997;25(2):149-52.
[v] Mayo Clinic Online. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction/in-depth/erectile-dysfunction/art-20047821. Accessed July 3, 2015.