A new study has found that exposure to moderate amounts of sunshine may slow the development of obesity and diabetes.
The researchers showed that shining UV light at overfed mice slowed their weight gain. The mice displayed fewer of the warning signs linked to diabetes, such as abnormal glucose levels and resistance to insulin.
The team found that the beneficial effects of UV treatment were linked to a compound called nitric oxide, which is released by the skin after exposure to sunlight. Applying a cream containing nitric oxide to the skin of the overfed mice had the same effect of curbing weight gain as exposure to UV light.
The team says the new findings add to the growing body of evidence that supports the health benefits of moderate exposure to the sun's rays.
The results should be interpreted cautiously, the researchers say, as mice are nocturnal animals covered in fur and not usually exposed to much sunlight. Studies are needed to confirm whether sunshine exposure has the same effect on weight gain and risk of diabetes in people.
Dr Shelley Gorman, of the Telethon Kids Institute and lead author of the study, said that their findings are important as they suggest that casual skin exposure to sunlight, together with plenty of exercise and a healthy diet, may help prevent the development of obesity in children.
Dr Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine and Integrative Biology at the University of Southampton, added that these observations further indicate that the amounts of nitric oxide released from the skin may have beneficial effects not only on heart and blood vessels but also on the way our body regulates metabolism.
The research was published in the journal Diabetes.