Scientists are still plodding along, trying to reimagine the wheel from within their concrete caves. Maybe in a thousand years they’ll be forced to conclude that sunshine is actually a good thing. It’s certainly long overdue in institutional medicine.
BOSTON – Vitamin D deficiency strongly exaggerates the craving for and effects of opioids, potentially increasing the risk for dependence and addiction, according to a new study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). These findings, published in Science Advances, suggest that addressing the common problem of vitamin D deficiency with inexpensive supplements could play a part in combating the ongoing scourge of opioid addiction.
Earlier work by David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, director of the Mass General Cancer Center’s Melanoma Program and director of MGH’s Cutaneous Biology Research Center (CBRC), laid the foundation for the current study. In 2007, Fisher and his team found something unexpected: Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays (specifically the form called UVB), causes the skin to produce the hormone endorphin, which is chemically related to morphine, heroin and other opioids–in fact, all activate the same receptors in the brain. A subsequent study by Fisher found that UV exposure raises endorphin levels in mice, which then display behavior consistent with opioid addiction.
Endorphin is sometimes called a “feel good” hormone because it induces a sense of mild euphoria. Studies have suggested that some people develop urges to sunbathe and visit tanning salons that mirror the behaviors of opioid addicts. Fisher and his colleagues speculated that people may seek out UVB because they unknowingly crave the endorphin rush. But that suggests a major contradiction. “Why would we evolve to be behaviorally drawn towards the most common carcinogen that exists?” asked Fisher. After all, sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, to say nothing of wrinkles and other skin damage….
This theory led Fisher and colleagues to hypothesize that sun seeking is driven by vitamin D deficiency, with the goal of increasing synthesis of the hormone for survival, and that vitamin D deficiency might also make the body more sensitive to the effects of opioids, potentially contributing to addiction. “Our goal in this study was to understand the relationship between vitamin D signaling in the body and UV-seeking and opioid-seeking behaviors,” says lead author Lajos V. Kemény, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Dermatology at MGH….