Study: Sun Tanning Is an Addiction in the Brain

By Victoria Kim 06/27/14

Researchers found that mice showed addictive behaviors that resembled opioid abuse.

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According to a mice study conducted by the Harvard Medical School and published in the journal Cell, routine sun-tanning may actually trigger an addictive pathway in the brain similar to opioid addiction.

Previous studies have hinted at addiction in excessive sun-tanners. The new study suggests that the endorphins generated by UV-exposure might be the cause for the addictive behavior.

The researchers shaved the backs of mice and exposed them to a daily dose of UV light for six weeks. This is the mouse-equivalent to 20 to 30 minutes of midday sun for humans. The result was that the mice’s beta-endorphin levels rose within the first week of UV exposure, which is a predictable response to UV light exposure.

Surprisingly, the mice became less responsive to changes in temperature and light touching, which suggests an analgesic effect, presumably due to the opioid response. Administration of naloxone, an opioid-blocker, caused withdrawal-like symptoms in the mice, similar to those observed in humans.

“It may be necessary…to more proactively protect individuals, including teens, from the risks of an avoidable, potentially life-threatening exposure and to view recreational tanning and opioid drug abuse as engaging in the same biological pathway,” wrote lead researchers Gillian L. Fell and Kathleen C. Robinson of Harvard.

Just about anything humans are drawn to for nutritional benefit can become addictive. Carbohydrates and fatty foods are prime examples, while sunlight and vitamin D are proving to be no different.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr