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Sunbathing may boost endorphins in the body and brain

Mice churn out feel-good molecule in response to ultraviolet light

12:00pm, June 19, 2014

SOAK UP THE SUN  Some people may crave sunshine because UV light boosts levels of a feel-good chemical that is a cousin of morphine and heroin, a study in mice suggests.

When bronzed sun worshippers bask on the beach they may get more than a tan. Ultraviolet light causes mice to churn out an opiate-like molecule, scientists report in the June 19 Cell. This feel-good molecule, called beta-endorphin, may explain why some people seem addicted to tanning.

The results may also explain why people are more generally drawn to sunny spots, says dermatologist and public health scientist Steven Feldman of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“Do you know why people go to the beach on vacation? Why they put Disney World in Florida and not in Minnesota, where it’s cooler? Why caves are not more popular as a tourist destination? It’s all because of what these guys studied,” Feldman says.

The project began with a puzzle, says study coauthor David Fisher, an oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He and his colleagues wanted to understand why skin cancer

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