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Warning: Sunbathing May Be Addictive

While you were basking on the beach, researchers have been trying to figure out why it is so hard to convince people to break the skin cancer-causing sunbathing habit. One theory: ultraviolet (UV) light can be addictive. Some studies have found that giving an opiod blocker to frequent tanners produced withdrawal-like symptoms, results that imply, but don't necessarily prove, that opiod pathways and reward centers in the brain are involved in their tanning activities. The latest evidence in support of the UV addiction theory comes from a study with mice at Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers there exposed a group of lab mice to a daily dose of UV light equivalent to the exposure of fair-skinned humans to 20 to 30 minutes of midday Florida sun. The dose was calibrated to tan, but not burn, the shaved backs of the mice. Within a week of daily exposure, feel-good beta-endorphin levels in the mice’s blood increased significantly, and didn’t drop until the UV exposure ended. When treated with a drug that blocked the opiod effect, the critters went into mouse withdrawal, complete with shaking and teeth chattering.

Sources:
David E Fisher, et al, ”Skin β-Endorphin Mediates Addiction to UV Light,” Cell, doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2014.04.032

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