Lack of sunlight may cause winter weight gain, research suggests

We often blame our added winter pounds on the holidays. All the gatherings of family and friends combined with good food, often take the toll on our waistlines.

But if you're one of the many who laments adding a few pounds in December, it may not actually be entirely due to changes in your diet. In fact, new research suggests that a lack of sunlight may be causing some of that unwanted weight gain.

»RELATED: What's the best way to lose weight with minimal effort?

The study, published by researchers at Canada's University of Alberta in the scientific journal Nature, reveals that blue light emitted by the sun actually causes fat cells sitting beneath the skin to shrink. In the winter months, when there is generally less sunlight in many regions and people readily cover their skin to stay warm, the cells store more fat.

"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," Dr. Peter Light, who led the research said, according to The Independent.

In other words, the illusion of looking thinner after a day tanning at the beach may not be entirely an illusion. The sunlight we're exposed to actually has a slimming effect on our fat cells.

»RELATED: 6 reasons why you're not losing weight – even though you're trying

However, Light also cautions against using exposure to sunlight as a means of losing weight.

"We don't yet know the intensity and duration of light necessary for this pathway to be activated," he told Global News, explaining that the findings are preliminary and more research is necessary.

Light also explained that the discovery happened by accident. The research team was attempting to engineer fat cells to create insulin to help treat type 1 diabetes. Along the way, the scientists noted how the fat cells responded to sunlight.

Cracking a joke about the findings, Light told CBC that he's "finally living up to his name."

Benefits of sunlight

Many people have long turned to tanning beds during the winter month, but Light said these methods don't necessarily have the same effect as direct exposure to the sun.

"We think that that great big nuclear reactor in the sky, the sun, is what's required," he explained. "We need really intense light to actually penetrate the skin."

The sun is already known to help our bodies generate vitamin D, and now Light believes his research has shown another important benefit to sunlight exposure.

"It may help regulate your body weight and a lack of it may actually lead to extra storage of [fat] in the winter," he said.

Next steps

While Light cautioned against jumping to any rash conclusions, he is optimistic that sunlight may one day be used in the treatment of obesity.

"Maybe this mechanism contributes to setting the number of fat cells we produce in childhood — thought to stay with us into adulthood," he said.

"Obviously, there is a lot of literature out there suggesting our current generation will be more overweight than their parents and maybe this feeds into the debate about what is healthy sunshine exposure," he added.

As of now, the research is only preliminary and more work is needed to determine the full effects and benefits of sunlight on weight. At the same time, the discovery has already suggests many interesting possibilities.

"Our initial first observation certainly holds many fascinating clues for our team and others around the world to explore," Light said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Health

7 dog hacks for pet parents in the city
7 dog hacks for pet parents in the city

Owning a dog can be extremely rewarding, but if you're a pet parent who lives in the heart of a city or in an apartment, you might face a few extra challenges. From a lack of yard space to nearby neighbors who can easily hear your dog barking, you may need to make some adjustments for the good of your lifestyle and your neighbors. Try these seven hacks...
Discover something new in New Carlisle: 4 must-visit spots
Discover something new in New Carlisle: 4 must-visit spots

With a population under 6,000 people, the quaint town of New Carlisle may be unfamiliar to some in the Miami Valley, but it isn’t without its charm. If you’re looking for a new neighborhood to explore, add this town on the western edge of Clark County to your list. Wondering what you can do out there? Here’s an itinerary to guide...
4 AMAZING chip-and-dip combos in Dayton
4 AMAZING chip-and-dip combos in Dayton

What’s better than a tasty chip? The dip you smother it in, of course. To celebrate National Chip & Dip day, head to one of these Dayton-area eateries for some of the best dip you’ve ever tasted. We’re not exactly sure about the secret blend of ingredients, but the Herbie dip is nothing short of amazing. The dip, which seems...
Cutting back perennials and pruning roses
Cutting back perennials and pruning roses

Last Sunday and Monday were perfect days to prune. In addition to pruning trees and shrubs, it’s also time to cut back perennials, including roses. If any of my perennials look good through the winter, I don’t prune the foliage back to the ground in the fall. Plants with winter interest include ornamental grasses, some coneflowers, sedum...
It’s Bavarian Crepe Day — and here’s where you can indulge in Dayton
It’s Bavarian Crepe Day — and here’s where you can indulge in Dayton

Today is National Bavarian Crepe Day. Also known as palatschinke, this type of crepe differs from the traditional French crepe because its batter “rests” before using. French crepe batter is immediately used. What you get is a slightly more fluffy crepe. But this isn’t “National Palatschinke Day,” so we can celebrate...
More Stories