UV Like an Addictive Substance?

Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light leads to endorphin release and signs of addiction in mice.

By | June 19, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, CUCHULAINA study on mice suggests that sun-worshipping might actually become addictive. In a report published today (June 19) in Cell, shaved mice exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light for six weeks showed elevated levels of endorphins in their blood, and giving the animals an opioid blocker sent them into withdrawal. “It’s surprising that we’re genetically programmed to become addicted to something as dangerous as UV radiation, which is probably the most common carcinogen in the world,” study author David Fisher of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School said in a press release.

Studies in humans have demonstrated addiction-like behaviors in frequent tanners. But some researchers not involved in the study cautioned against extrapolating the results in rodents to people. Clare Stanford of University College London told The Telegraph that “this study does not provide the sort of evidence needed to show addiction to UV light in mice and it is even less certain that the work predicts addiction in humans. This would require testing whether the mice preferred UV light or non-UV light.”

Charles Bradbury at the University of Pittsburgh told NBC News that it’s possible UV addiction could occur in humans, based on Fisher’s finding in mice. The opioid pathway, he said,  “is a very basic and fundamental neurochemical pathway.”

Fisher added that the findings might help in efforts to prevent excessive UV exposure, which can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. “Our findings suggest that the decision to protect our skin or the skin of our children may require more of a conscious effort rather than a passive preference.”

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Avatar of: nwcorner


Posts: 1

June 20, 2014

As humans migrated north out of Africa, their skin got lighter and their exposure to sun lessened because of the colder climate, with no to a few hours of sun much of the year.  Black skin, originating in very sunny Africa, is more protective for sunburn than lighter skin that originated where there was less sunshine.

Sun exposure is essential to produce the hormone "vitamin" D.  It was when we all lived in Africa and the sun still performs this essential function for us.  This is evident from the inadequate levels of D for those living in the north who don't eat enough fish.  Fish is Nature's very cleaver way of getting essential D to people who couldn't get enough sun.

It's no wonder we crave the sun. D is essential for each cell in our bodies to function effectively.  Those with lighter skin particularly need to moderate their exosure but that can be done with out sunscreen.  Many of the chemicals in sunscreen are questionable for human health. 

Avatar of: Neurona


Posts: 70

June 20, 2014

Aside from the rodent-human extrapolation (always a great question), I'm unhappy with labeling this finding as an "addiction". We evolved on a background of UV exposure and, as the previous poster noted, UV performs a vital physiological function in modern humans (and other animals). Evolution often co-opts poisons into pluses (e.g. O2, ammonia-urea). Were we to discover that deep breathing spikes endorphins, would we wring our hands over our "breathing addiction" simply because overdoing it makes us faint? Aren't endorphins a message that we're doing something right, and should perhaps keep it up?

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