High Blood Pressure - On the Sunny Side of the Street
By Jessica Cander
It is one of those situations where, after examining the facts, you almost feel like you are caught between a rock and a hard spot. Or perhaps better yet between the shade and the sun. For many years now the public has been cautioned against excess amounts of sun exposure. And clearly there is truth behind this. Skin cancer is a very real risk, and precautions such as sun block and long sleeved clothing should be taken when going out in the sun. Yet just as it is generally advised that you should not lay unprotected on the beach for hours at a time, summer after summer, it is steadily becoming more apparent that a lack of sunlight can have very negative, far-reaching consequences on your health as well. In recent years numerous well-respected studies, such as one carried out by the University of Maine, have shown that lack of sunlight may in fact be the cause of, or a large contributing factor behind, some people's high blood pressure.
Probably the most well-known health problem that can stem from a severe lack of sunlight is vitamin D deficiency, often seen in the form of rickets. This condition occurs because the human body produces its vitamin D through sunlight expose (it can also be obtained through artificial ultra violet light, supplements and some foods). Much like trees and greenery, humans need vitamin D to thrive and develop properly. We have millions upon millions of red corpuscles that flow continually through the blood vessels in every part of our skin. Tucked away beneath these vessels are little oil glands that are called sterols. When sterols are exposed to sunlight a substance inside of them is changed and it turns into vitamin D. This vitamin D is in turn carried to every part of your body, including your heart, kidneys and blood.
With the help of vitamin D your kidneys are able to create a hormone called rennin. This useful hormone is an important helper when it comes to regulating blood pressure. In the liver it helps to produce a substance called calcidiol, which in turn creates calcitriol. This substance helps to control your metabolism's calcium levels. This is a very imperative function as the effects of this transformation stem as far as lowering your risk of certain diseases and managing things like your insulin levels and autoimmune system. In fact low levels of vitamin D have been linked to many conditions including SAD, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, hypoparathyroidism, colon cancer, MS, and even diabetes, so it should come as no surprise that it can also be a contributing actor behind high blood pressure.
For over fifty years scientists and physicians have been aware of the reality that exposure to ultraviolet light (which can be obtained from sunlight or through manmade lights) can lower blood pressure in people who have "average blood pressure levels, and significantly lower levels in those with high blood pressure.
Does this mean that if you have high blood pressure you should spend hours a day completely exposed to the sun? No, but more and more researchers are finding that even small doses of sunlight (which can be taken in while wearing sunscreen) are good for you. It has even been put forth that sunlight through your eyes can help with vitamin D problems too. In this modern world of continual "indoor-ism and hectic schedules it can be hard to find time or ways to get enough vitamin D. Supplements are one answer, artificial ultraviolet light another (this route is often used to treat SAD), and natural sunlight in reasonable amounts in another. But with all the potential good that a little sunlight now and than can do for you one can't help but wonder if it's time to take a walk on the sunny side of the street. Who knows, your blood pressure may thank you for it.