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Integrative Health
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Your Metabolism Needs A Daily Dose Of Sunshine, According To Study. Here's Why

Sarah Regan
January 22, 2020
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Woman in the Autumn Sun
Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
January 22, 2020

From providing us with vitamin D to simply brightening our lives, sunlight has earned a well-deserved spot in the well-being conversation. But new research may have just discovered one more reason to get some sunshine into your life: Exposure to natural sunlight actually regulates how fat cells work together. And when that sunshine is lacking, it can have negative effects on metabolic health.

Of course we know moderation is key, especially with something like UV rays, so we took a look at the research to get the lowdown on sunshine.

Certain light helps burn fat.

The study, done at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, was intended to look at how mice responded to cold temperatures, with the knowledge that humans and mice both burn fat when cold.

Researchers discovered one particular wavelength of light resulted in white fat cells releasing fatty acids into the bloodstream, allowing all types of others cells to use that fat for energy. What happened, they found, is the light triggered a gene called OPN3 to prompt the fat cells to release fatty acids.

The researchers then noticed the mice couldn't warm up (or burn fat) very well without this light.

Artificial light, as the study notes, does not provide this type of light in very significant levels, but it does occur naturally in sunlight.

Senior author of the study Richard Lang, Ph.D., says, "This idea of light penetration into deep tissue is very new, even to many of my scientific colleagues. But we and others have been finding opsins [light-sensing genes] located in a variety of tissue types. This is still just the beginning."

So, take it outside.

If you're curious, the type of light the scientists refer to is specifically a 480-nanometer wavelength of blue light. But until someone develops a light bulb for that, you can pretty much get it only through sunshine, which may be a good idea, as the researchers concluded sunlight is necessary for normal energy metabolism in mice, which have a very similar genetic composition to humans.

"Our bodies evolved over the years under the sun's light," Lang says. "But now we live so much of our days under artificial light, which does not provide the full spectrum of light we all get from the sun."

And we know being able to get outside is dependent on a lot of factors, like weather, but all the benefits of fresh air and sunshine are well worth it.

"Our modern lifestyle subjects us to unnatural lighting spectra, exposure to light at night, shift work, and jet lag, all of which result in metabolic disruption," Lang adds. "It is possible that insufficient stimulation of the light-OPN3 adipocyte pathway is part of an explanation for the prevalence of metabolic deregulation."

Is light therapy in the future?

Lang goes on to note that research still needs to be done on the human front since right now, the findings can be applied definitively to only mice. But if the results were to be observed in humans, "There are potentially broad implications for human health," which could result in "a significant change in the way we view the effects of light on our bodies," according to Lang.

For example, the potential for light therapy could be promising in aiding metabolic syndrome and preventing diabetes. Further, if someone really does invent a comparable indoor lighting source, we might be able to get this light inside.

But until then, "If people want to take anything personal away from this," Lang says, "you likely can't go wrong by spending more time outside."

So take that as an order—here are some ideas to get you (and the kids!) outside all year round, plus nutrition and exercise tips for your metabolism.

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Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.