Lack of Sunlight May Be Responsible for Winter Weight Gain
Is it our imagination that we gain more weight in the winter as we hibernate in front of the fireplace and television, and indulge in our favorite comfort foods like creamy soup or a big bowl of pasta? (And let’s not forget about sipping hot cocoa by the fire!) Or is this just a myth?
A breakthrough study from Canada confirms our suspicions (but with a twist): Fat cells are sensitive to sunlight and may explain winter weight gain as many of us hunker down inside our warm homes, and away from exposure to the outdoor chill.
Avoiding the Winter Sun Can Lead to Increased Fat Storage
As tempting as staying indoors may be during the cold winter months, a new study explains doing this may lead to a few extra pounds. University of Alberta medical researchers have demonstrated that fat cells that lie just under our skin shrink in size when exposed to the blue light emitted by the sun’s rays. The light that we can see with our bare eyes is called blue light and when this light hits our skin and reaches the fat cells underneath, liquid drops shrink and are released from the cell, so our cells do not store as much fat, according to lead researcher of the study, Dr. Peter Light.
A professor of pharmacology at the University of Alberta, Dr. Light reports avoiding weight gain is a new reason to enjoy winter’s sunshine in addition to the benefits of vitamin D generation. Less sunlight exposure in the winter months, especially if you live in a northern climate, could explain fat storage and lead to extra weight gain.
Study Finds Fat Cells are Sensitive to Sunlight
Along with his team in Canada, Dr. Light’s discovery is the first-ever observation that fat cells are sensitive to sunlight. However, he says it is not yet known how much sunlight is needed to combat winter weight gain nor how long is necessary to go outdoors for maximum benefit. Dr. Light hopes this medical link between insufficient sunlight and winter weight gain will lead to additional research on the effects of light on certain health-related issues, such as diabetes and obesity. He hopes to learn more about what is a healthy amount of sunshine exposure for overall benefit and good health.
Dr. Light believes the blue light wavelengths in sunlight that we can see with our eyes, and which play a key role in regulating circadian rhythm, may also impact the fat cells penetrating our skin. Body fat lies beneath our skin.
We can see similar circadian rhythms when we are told not to look at smartphone, tablet or television screens before bedtime because the same type of blue light — as the one from the sun — interferes with the body’s natural sleep cycle, signaling our bodies to wake up. In this vein, exposure to sunlight that impacts our sleep and wake patterns also directs the amount of fat people can burn depending on the season. So we can gain weight in winter, and then lose it in the summer months as we spend more time in the warmth of the outdoors.