During the holidays, we all tend to put on a few extra pounds. Many of us attribute this to the holidays and the consumption of a lot of high calorie foods, as well as leftovers from those holidays. While over-consumption does indeed play a vital role in why we gain weight, there may in fact be another reason lurking as well: sunlight.
According to a recent study published in Nature by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, sunlight can potentially help to increase your metabolism. Peter Light, a researcher from the Alberta Diabetes Institute who helped work on the study, were checking how sunlight effected the subcutaneous fat cells, or the fat that lies right underneath our skin.
This fat is not healthy in the long term, and over time can result in various medical maladies. The main reason this research was conducted was for Light to manipulate fat cells so that they can produce insulin in response to light, which would be beneficial to diabetics. They incidentally discovered that under blue light, these fat cells would shrink.
According to Peter Light, “When the sun’s blue light wavelengths — the light we can see with our eye — penetrate our skin and reach the fat cells just beneath, lipid droplets reduce in size and are released out of the cell. In other words, our cells don’t store as much fat” Says Light. “If you flip our findings around, the insufficient sunlight exposure we get 8 months of the year living in a northern climate may be promoting fat storage and contribute to the typical weight gain some of us have over winter.”
He also states that since light regulates our circadian rhythm, or when we feel awake or tired when exposed to light, our fat cells may act similarly. He does urge, however, that there are many factors to take into account, and not much is known about how much it helps, or even at what intensity that it works.
Also, it is good to note that overt sunlight exposure has been linked to an increased risk for skin cancer, so tanning more or going outside just to expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible with the intent of losing weight could possibly work in the immediate future, the consequences can be dire. So one needs to weigh the potential benefits of extra weight loss when it comes to light exposure, and the higher potential risk for skin cancer.
However, the scientists behind this study are optimistic, and urge that more evidence is accumulated before any conclusions can be reached. Or as is stated in the paper, “we have identified a novel light-sensitive signaling pathway in human scWAT that is sensitive to ambient light levels that penetrate the skin on a sunny day. As such, these findings may shed new light on our current understanding of adipocyte biology.”