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MGH Researchers Discover UV Radiation May Be Addictive

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Dr. Mallika Marshall, WBZ-TV Medical Reporter Dr. Mallika Marshall
Dr. Mallika Marshall is WBZ-TV News’ Medical Reporter and contributes...
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BOSTON (CBS) – New research from Mass General Hospital shows there may be something addictive about UV radiation.

Michael Barrett and Michele Milisi from Dorchester enjoy spending time in the sun.

“It makes me feel good when the sun is out,” Michele says.

“I think all of us being from New England, we enjoy when spring and summer come,” Michael says.

But some people seem to crave UV radiation, whether from the sun or tanning beds more than others.

“There are probably thousands and thousands of people who are addicted to the sun,” says Dr. David Fisher, Chairman of Dermatology at MGH.

Dr. Fisher conducted a recent study exposing mice to low dose UV radiation for about 20 minutes a day for six weeks. They found that these mice produced a hormone called beta-endorphin, which activates the same pathways in the body as heroin and oxycodone.

Once the mice were given a drug, called Narcan, which blocks opiate effects, they became jittery and jumpy, the same symptoms you get with heroin withdrawal.

“These data suggest to us that there really is a molecular mechanism that is guiding a behavioral tendency to feel a benefit and to choose UV exposure or conversely to avoid the possibility of withdrawal from UV exposure,” Dr. Fisher says.

Dr. Fisher says this might help explain why rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are rising faster than any other cancers, despite the fact that we know how to prevent it.

“The idea that there is a prevention opportunity for a deadly form of cancer is very special because for most deadly cancers we don’t have prevention opportunities,” he says. “So if this is one of those we want to be smart about.”

And we’re not just talking about being addicted to the sun; it’s an addiction to UV radiation, so Dr. Fisher is also concerned about tanning beds. He and his colleagues are calling on the FDA and states to put stricter regulations in place for tanning salons.

MORE HEALTH NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON

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