Deep inside your brain, neurons are soaking up the sun and using it to prevent heart disease, stroke and diabetes. That's the premise from Cincinnati Children's Hospital researchers who studied mice and wrote about it in the journal Nature.
Children's Richard Lang, Ph.D., led the research from a multi-institutional team of scientists including collaborators from Yale University. It builds on previous studies Lang did looking at how the skin and fat cells also benefit from the sun. WVXU reported on that in February.
In this study, Lang and others found the light-sensing cells live in the hypothalamus. In addition to helping to prevent metabolic syndrome, it appears the sun's violet light can regulate metabolism. The special molecules are called opsins. They're also in our eyes and that's how we see.
"You know, in the modern world we live inside," he says. "So we're not stimulating this pathway we've just discovered, and so it may be that we are under-stimulated and we may have this subtle deregulation of our metabolic system as a result."
Lang is working with engineers at Children's to develop a special artificial light that will be installed in the hospital's new critical care wing. Eventually, he would like to see this violet light more widely available.
"It will be a test bed for these lighting systems, whether we can use these light response pathways to overcome problems that children face," he explains.
Until then, he says you can help yourself by spending at least 30 minutes in the sun at dawn and dusk when the violet rays are most prevelant.