Soaking up the sun is an activity that many of us enjoy at every stage of life, but a new study has warned of the particular dangers of UV exposure to women after they have been through the menopause.

Researchers say that spending too much time in the sun can affect post-menopausal women’s oestrogen levels, which can lead to a range of health issues.

These can include osteoporosis, cardiac diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to previous research.

Based on the findings, the researchers say that sun exposure needs to be carefully monitored, and advise wearing suncream if you’re spending longer than 15 minutes in the sun. 

Sunbathing is an activity that many of us enjoy while on holiday, but a new study has warned of the dangers of spending time in the sun for post-menopausal women (stock image)

Sunbathing is an activity that many of us enjoy while on holiday, but a new study has warned of the dangers of spending time in the sun for post-menopausal women (stock image)

WHAT IS THE MENOPAUSE?

Menopause is defined as the changes a woman goes through just before and after she stops her periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. 

Some women go through this time with few, if any, symptoms, around 60 percent experience symptoms resulting in behavioral changes and one in four will suffer severely. 

Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness leading to discomfort during sex, disrupted sleep, decreased sex drive, problems with memory and concentration and mood swings.

Menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing as much of the hormone oestrogen and no longer release an egg each month.

In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51, according to the NHS.

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When women reach the menopause, their oestrogen levels decline, while levels of other hormones, called gonadotropins, increase. 

In the study, researchers from the University of Bergen aimed to look at whether UV light could also disrupt oestrogen levels in post-menopausal women.

The team collected data from 580 post-menopausal women in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France, and Spain, including information on how much time they spend in the sun, which parts of their body are usually exposed, and whether or not they wear sunscreen.

Using satellite data, the researchers also developed a model of how much UV-radiation the women had been exposed to, based on their location.

Finally, the women’s hormone levels were also measured.

The results revealed that participants who were most exposed to sunlight had lower levels of oestrogen, and higher levels of gonadotropins, compared to those exposed to lower levels of UV.

Dr Kai Triebner, who led the study, said: ‘A low oestrogen level and a high level of the other hormones increases the risk of osteoporosis, cardiac diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.’

Surprisingly, the participants’ country of residence did not seem to cause a huge difference in UV exposure.

‘If you live in Spain, you preferably stay inside during the sunniest hours, but if you live on the rainy coast of Norway, you use every possibility to get a tan’, said Dr Triebner.

Based on the findings, the researchers say that sun exposure needs to be carefully monitored.

While UV light appears to affect oestrogen levels, it’s also important for keeping Vitamin D levels up.

Dr Triebner explained: ‘How much vitamin D you need varies from person to person and where you live. As a rule of thumb, ten to fifteen minutes a day in the sun with your face and lower arms exposed is recommended.’

Beyond this time, researchers advise wearing sunscreen – regardless of whether or not you sunburn easily.

‘When you get a sunburn, you are already far above the recommended level of UV-radiation, and at an increased risk of developing melanoma,’ Dr Triebner added.

The researchers are yet to investigate whether UV light has an effect on the hormone levels of pre-menopausal women.

Dr Triebner concluded: ‘UV-radiation might affect when in life you reach menopause. But it might also be plausible that UV-radiation has a beneficial effect on the hormone balance before menopause.

‘As researchers we have only dipped our toe in the water. There is still much to investigate.’

How vitamin D deficiency can affect the human body

Vitamin D deficiency – when the level of vitamin D in your body is too low – can cause your bones to become thin, brittle or misshapen.

Vitamin D also appears to play a role in insulin resistance, high blood pressure and immune function – and this relates to heart disease and cancer – but this is still being investigated.

Low levels of the vitamin have also long been linked to an increased risk of multiple sclerosis. 

Although the amount of vitamin D adults get from their diets is often less than what’s recommended, exposure to sunlight can make up for the difference. 

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For most adults, vitamin D deficiency is not a concern. 

However, some groups – particularly people who are obese, who have dark skin and who are older than age 65 – may have lower levels of vitamin D due to their diets, little sun exposure or other factors.

Source: Mayo Clinic 



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