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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

Sunbeds and UV exposure: Can they elevate mood?

I ran across a 2002 paper that begins, “People tend to feel better after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.” The authors are seven German scientists from Ruhr-University.

Gambichler T, Bader A, Vojvodic M, Bechara FG, Sauermann K, Altmeyer P, Hoffmann K.  Impact of UVA exposure on psychological parameters and circulating serotonin and melatonin. BMC Dermatol. 2002 Apr 12;2:6.

The team of researchers measured different aspects of psychological well being in 53 volunteers before and after sunbed use. At baseline, all volunteers completed psychological questionnaires. Forty-two of the volunteers were assigned to receive twice-weekly full body UVA irradiation for 3 weeks. The other 11 received no phototherapy. At the end of the trial, all participants completed psychological questionnaires.

They found that sunbed exposed volunteers felt significantly more balanced, less nervous, more strengthened, and more satisfied with their appearance after sunbed use. By contrast, the controls did not show significant changes of psychological parameters. However, serum serotonin and melatonin were unchanged.

Another study also found a more relaxed and less tense mood after UV exposure in sunbeds compared with non-UV exposure.

Feldman SR, Liguori A, Kucenic M, Rapp SR, Fleischer AB Jr, Lang W, Kaur M. Ultraviolet exposure is a reinforcing stimulus in frequent indoor tanners. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Jul;51(1):45-51.

So why do sunbeds make you feel better?

One thought is that it’s due to endorphin production. Skin cells produce morphine like substances (endorphins) upon exposure to UV radiation.

Heckman CJ, Egleston BL, Wilson DB, Ingersoll KS. A preliminary investigation of the predictors of tanning dependence. Am J Health Behav. 2008;32:451–64. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.32.5.1.

At least one study found blood levels of endorphins are higher after sunbed use, although not all studies show this.

Levins PC, Carr DB, Fisher JE, Momtaz K, Parrish JA. Plasma beta-endorphin and beta-lipoprotein response to ultraviolet radiation. Lancet. 1983 Jul 16;2(8342):166.

In keeping with the endorphin theory, patients with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia have reported a greater short-term decrease in pain and improved mood after exposure to sunbeds compared to non-users.

Taylor SL, Kaur M, LoSicco K, Willard J, Camacho F, O’Rourke KS, Feldman SR.  Pilot study of the effect of ultraviolet light on pain and mood in fibromyalgia syndrome. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Jan;15(1):15-23.

I like to feel better. That’s why I seek UV exposure year-round. In the summer, sun exposure is the most natural and available option. In the winter, I sometimes go to suntan parlors, and I sometimes use in home devices, too. If you use sun-tanning parlors, ask for the older, low pressure, standard sunbeds. They pretty well replicate sunlight.

  About: John Cannell, MD

Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.

One Response to Sunbeds and UV exposure: Can they elevate mood?

  1. Rita and Misty says:

    I find the connection between mood and sunshine and/or vitamin D intriguing.

    I think it is important to note that there was a very slight increase (emphasis on very slight) in melatonin during at least one of the tanning studies discussed in Dr. Cannell’s article:

    Gambichler T, Bader A, Vojvodic M, Bechara FG, Sauermann K, Altmeyer P, Hoffmann K. Impact of UVA exposure on psychological parameters and circulating serotonin and melatonin. BMC Dermatol. 2002 Apr 12;2:6.

    But certainly this slight increase does not explain mood elevation.

    I do think if tanning is done appropriately yet to the extent sufficient enough to raise 25(OH)D level to optimal there might indeed be a greater increase in serotonin/melatonin levels.

    Now, regarding mood elevation:

    Perhaps the elevated mood experienced from Sunbed and UV exposure might not have to do with increased serotonin/melatonin levels. Perhaps it has to to with TIMING of the UV exposure.

    Studies have shown that when people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner. Therefore, they enter into sleep more easily at night. I know when I sleep better, I look and feel better. Don’t you?

    “The melatonin rhythm phase advancement caused by exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/ (oh no! not this j.a. again!! 😉 )

    It should be noted that the melatonin precursor, serotonin, is also affected by exposure to daylight. Serotonin is produced during the day, and it is only converted to melatonin in darkness.

    The subject of sleep fascinates me almost as much as the subject of vitamin D…

    Be well,

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