EXPOSING skin to sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure and thus cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to scientists.
Research carried out at the universities of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO), in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure.
Martin Feelisch, professor of experimental medicine and integrative biology at the University of Southampton, said: "NO, along with its breakdown products, known to be abundant in skin, is involved in the regulation of blood pressure.
"When exposed to sunlight, small amounts of NO are transferred from the skin to the circulation, lowering blood vessel tone; as blood pressure drops, so does the risk of heart attack and stroke."
While limiting sunlight exposure is important to prevent skin cancer, the authors of the study suggest that minimising exposure may be disadvantageous by increasing the risk of prevalent conditions related to heart disease.
Heart disease, often associated with high blood pressure, accounts for 30pc of deaths globally each year.
Blood pressure and heart disease are known to vary according to season and latitude, with higher levels observed in winter and in countries further from the equator. The results suggest that UVA exposure dilates blood vessels, significantly lowers blood pressure, and alters NO metabolite levels in the circulation, without changing vitamin D levels.