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We’ve all been there. We might have been really particular about our diets and may have actually lost some weight during the year. However, when the holiday season comes around, the weight suddenly starts coming back. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the fact that you’re likely relaxing and not working out during that time. Also, you’re likely eating a lot of delicious, but unhealthy food too in the holidays. All of that does contribute to weight gain, however, a study reveals that there’s another factor that plays a vital role in weight gain during holidays.

A study by researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada reveals that the absence of sunlight is one of the main contributors to weight gain in the winter. The researchers, led by Peter Light examined the effect of sunlight on subcutaneous fat cells, or white fat cells found just beneath our skin.

Sunlight and Fat

You might be thinking that sunlight should not have anything to do with fat let alone fat burn, right? That might not be the case. Light and his team examined the subcutaneous white adipose tissue (scWAT). This particular fat tissue is of great interest for every researcher because it is the one that’s majorly deposited as fat throughout the body. Moreover, it is the same tissue that plays a key role in regulating the entire body metabolism.

White fat or “bad fat” stores calories that are typically burned for energy. It earns its bad name due to the fact that it stores these calories instead of helping the body burn them. This type of fat is also responsible for disorders such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

What Light and his team wanted to do was to find a way to help type 1 diabetes patients with these white fat cells. How? They would try to find a way to genetically engineer the white fat cells to produce insulin when exposed to sunlight. Instead, what they discovered was that sunlight actually shrinks the size of these fat cells due to blue light i.e. the visible form of light that boosts attention and mood during the day. According to Peter Light:

When the sun’s blue light wavelengths — the light we can see with our eye — penetrate our skin and reach the fat cells just beneath, lipid droplets reduce in size and are released out of the cell. In other words, our cells don’t store as much fat.”

Explaining winter weight gain through the study’s findings

Light says that when the situation is reversed, when sunlight exposure is low, then the effects can be the opposite. According to him, the sunlight exposure people get during 8 months of the year living in a northern climate is ‘insufficient’. With the sunlight exposure being insufficient, it promotes increased fat storage and helps in the weight gain people often experience during the winter. He adds:

“It’s early days, but it’s not a giant leap to suppose that the light that regulates our circadian rhythm, received through our eyes, may also have the same impact through the fat cells near our skin,”.

The results of the study, however, are very interesting. Even though the study was not originally intended to focus on this aspect of sunlight, it has opened up new avenues for research. The effects of sunlight on fat cells could be explored in greater detail which could lead to some sort of light therapy for weight loss enhancement.

However, there is some uncertainty with the research as well. There are so many factors that one has to take into account that perhaps the researchers here didn’t take into account. After all, the original goal of the study was not to test the effect of sunlight on weight loss, it was to help diabetes patients. Light also warns people about taking the results seriously as he says there’s far too less information available for sunlight to be used as a legitimate weight loss tool.

He also says: “[T]here is a lot of literature out there suggesting our current generation will be more overweight than their parents and maybe this feeds into the debate about what is healthy sunshine exposure.”

Nevertheless, the findings of the study are still really exciting. It opens up new avenues for further research. Perhaps more researchers can examine the effect of sunlight on fat cells and we might even come up with a new way to lose weight. However, until such a day comes, we’d recommend we stick to the traditional exercise and diet lifestyle for losing weight.


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