A few minutes each day topping up our tan would be a very convenient way of lowering our high blood pressure. Nor would we have the side effects associated with prescription drugs. Is sunbathing more effective than drugs? The popular press' reaction to the recent publication of research in this field would have us believe so, but is it fact or fiction?
What we are really talking about is Vitamin D deficiency, which, while being a far cry from sunbathing is not unrelated to it as our main source of Vitamin D is synthesized by our bodies from sunlight.
High blood pressure and lifestyle choices
When we think about our lifestyles and high blood pressure, we more often than not focus on the effects of our modern 'Western' diet or as it is also called SAD – Standard American Diet, and our sedentary lifestyles.
Research recently published by academia from the University of South Australia has put the spotlight on how hypertension is affected by other lifestyle choices – keeping out of the sun and the use of UV blockers.
There was a time when having a suntan was considered healthy, but the rise in skin cancers, even in countries with a temperate climate, has changed that perception. There is now a general fear that sunbathing may cause skin cancer and the current advice is to use a strong sunscreen or UV blocker. This has contributed to a general deficiency in Vitamin D.
There are other aspects of our modern lifestyle that have had an effect on our production of Vitamin D. Most certainly are our working arrangements.
We drive from home to work and spend the whole day inside. We then drive home again where we may spend a short time outside late in the day if the weather is fine, before spending the rest of the evening indoors. As a result, our bodies get insufficient sunlight to make enough Vitamin D.
The new research suggests that Vitamin D deficiency may be contributing factor in the hypertensive epidemic.
Can Vitamin D lower high blood pressure?
The research shows that increasing Vitamin D in the blood by 10% lowers high blood pressure and reduces the risk of the condition developing by 8.1%. The best way for us to get sufficient Vitamin D is to spend a little time in the sunlight each day without using a sunscreen.
Killing two hypertension birds with one stone
An effective way of getting sufficient Vitamin D is to take some outdoor exercise, such as going for a brisk walk, jogging or cycling in the sunshine but without applying any sunscreen. We know that exercise can lower high blood pressure and that the benefits last for almost 24 hours. Add to that the benefit of increasing Vitamin D in the blood by 10% and your hypertension will be reduced by an even greater amount.
Sunbathing without using a sunscreen carries the risk of ultra violet radiation damage to the skin. We call this sunburn. That does not mean to say we should not sit out in the sun for a short while and relaxing before moving into the shade. We should, however, move into the shade before there is any reddening of the skin. In this way we also get a double benefit: increased synthesis of Vitamin D; and, a period of relaxation, both of which can lower our high blood pressure.
Having sufficient Vitamin D can lower our high blood pressure. That much is a fact. Is it more effective than prescription drugs? The research is still in its infancy so it is too early to make such a bold claim.
However, the best way of lowering our high blood pressure to normal levels is by having a healthy balanced diet and by taking regular out-door exercise. That way we will ensure a sufficient supply of Vitamin D from sunlight and from our diet.