We’ve all seen the impact of dangerous addictions to cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs like heroin and crack. But a new study shows that sunshine can act like a drug, making frequent sun soakers addicted to tanning.
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Scientists conducting an experiment with mice found that the animals exposed to daily doses of ultraviolet (UV) light increased their blood levels of beta-endorphins, which are hormones that make us feel good. In fact, they have the same effect on the brain as drugs like heroin and morphine.
In the study, the mice exposed to UV light were less sensitive to touch and temperature. However, when that exposure was revoked, some began to shake and tremble.
Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a psychiatrist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, says the study demonstrates the existence of “tanning addiction”. “This supports the idea that UV exposure is rewarding to the brain, and could have the potential for addiction,” Adinoff said.
Adinoff wasn’t involved in this most recent study — which has been published in the June issue of the journal Cell — but did contribute to a similar study carried out in 2011. In that case, scientists examined the brain activity of people who regularly visited tanning salons. Like this most recent study, the 2011 study found that exposure to UV light — much like the consumption of drugs, alcohol, and food — caused the “reward” centers of the brain to come alive.
The 2014 study was led by Dr. David Fisher, head of the dermatology department at Massachusetts General Hospital. Fisher says the study’s findings show that tanning “is not purely a cosmetic decision,” with frequent tanners seeking out a high in addition to darker skin.
That, Fisher says, is a troubling finding because the skin “is more affected by cancer than any other organ in the human body.”