Summer Solstice Sun Exposure And Drug Like Addiction

June 21, 2014 – Summer Solstice 6:51AM EDT

Yes, the summer season begins tomorrow in our northern hemisphere. It is officially the longest day of the year with the most hours of sunlight. Do you look forward to summer? For many, summer brings with it favorite happy memories ~ long days at the ocean or lake, tubing or rafting in a river, summer camp, swimming lessons, and yes, even days at the local “beach” club like Castle Hill in the Bronx.

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Playing in the sun for long hours is what we used to do. We asked one of our 60+ year old associates about how her mom approached summer time: “It was a time for the kids to go outside and play, my mom would send us out with just a pair of shorts, no t-shirt, no shoes and we would play for hours. There was no caution to protect ourselves from the sun’s rays, no hats, no sunglasses…having a sunburn complete with blistered shoulders was expected!”

Playing “unprotected” in the sun was typical, but it should be remembered that sunscreen products have been around for centuries, even the famous Coppertone was branded in the 1950’s. However, many feel that these products served to make people less fearful of sun exposure and sunbathing became very popular. Additionally, while these early products may have prevented sunburn, they did not protect the users from the sun’s radiation. It was not until around 1962 that the sun protection factor (SPF) was introduced to block the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV).

New study suggests UV-seeking behavior has addictive features

This week a report of a new study was published in the journal Cell: Skin β-Endorphin Mediates Addiction to UV Light. 

The researchers were led by senior study author Dr. David E. Fisher, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital. These researchers were trying to determine why, if people know what causes skin cancer and have been duly warned, does the incidence of skin cancer continue to rise and rise faster that other types of cancer.

Multiple experiments were conducted. According to a FOX News report:

  • The team exposed shaved mice to UV light for six weeks in low doses. After one week, measured endorphin levels in the bloodstream increased. The subjects were then tested for common symptoms associated with opioid signaling – such as low sensitivity to touch and temperature – and the researchers found the mice had become numb to sensory input. When the mice were put on an opiate-blocking drug, to lessen the effects of the increased endorphins, the numbness was instantly reversed.
  • In another experiment, when UV-exposed mice were put on an opioid-blocking drug, they had withdrawal symptoms including shaking, tremors and teeth chattering, suggesting chronic UV exposure leads to physical dependence and addiction-like behavior.
  • To further study the UV exposure and endorphin connection, researchers wanted to know whether the subjects’ behavior could be influenced by cognition of withdrawal symptoms.
    After being given opioid-blocking drugs, the UV-exposed mice actively avoided conditions under which they suffered withdrawal symptoms, the researchers found.

Looking forward…

Summer is here, your college aged children may be home for the season and your teenagers and young adolescents may be wanting to spend a lot of time in the sun…tanning. Parents should take a few minutes and notice their children’s tanning habits. For that matter, all adults should think about their own sun exposure routines…they may not be a purely cosmetic decision.

U.S. News and World Report published a HealthDay report and included an interview with Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a psychiatrist associated with the VA North Texas Health Care System and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. While Dr. Bryon was not involved in the study he offered: “This supports the idea that UV exposure is rewarding to the brain, and could have potential for addiction.”

Have a great summer…

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