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

Get a taste of Thanksgiving early with this Turducken sandwich and pumpkin pie milkshake
Get a taste of Thanksgiving early with this Turducken sandwich and pumpkin pie milkshake

Already craving Thanksgiving food? Beginning Nov. 13, you can satisfy your Thanksgiving cravings at Potbelly Sandwich Shop with the limited-time Turducken sandwich. The sandwich features a delicious combination of turkey, duck and chicken toasted with cornbread stuffing and topped with a cranberry-honey sauce, mayo, lettuce, cheddar cheese...
High blood pressure by this age raises heart attack risk, study says
High blood pressure by this age raises heart attack risk, study says

High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease. But if you have the condition at a young age, your chances may be even higher. Researchers from Duke University recently conducted a study, published in JAMA, to explore hypertension in younger adults based on new blood pressure levels set by the American College of Cardiology...
This is when your body burns the most calories, study says
This is when your body burns the most calories, study says

There are plenty of ways to burn calories. One of the ways to burn more could be linked to the time of day your workout happens. Researchers from Harvard Medical School recently conducted a small study, published in Current Biology journal, to determine how circadian rhythms, which control the body’s sleep cycles, influence calorie...
Kennedy artifacts on display at Dayton International Peace Museum
Kennedy artifacts on display at Dayton International Peace Museum

An exhibit at the Dayton International Peace Museum fulfills a promise a local man made to Edward Kennedy 50 years ago to remember his slain brothers. Glory and Tragedy: JFK and RFK, 1960-1968 is a collection of artifacts and items related to John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, acquired by local presidential history collector Bill White...
Bet you can’t guess what these Kettering kids have been doing since their time on ‘The Sing-Off’
Bet you can’t guess what these Kettering kids have been doing since their time on ‘The Sing-Off’

Boy does time fly when you are singing at the top of your lungs.  A lot has changed since seven Kettering Fairmont High School students wowed the nation on NBC’s a cappella competition “The Sing-Off.” The then-members of Fairmont’s singing group Eleventh Hour appeared on the show hosted by Cincinnati native and singer...
More Stories