Made when the sun hits our skin, nitric oxide lowers blood pressure when it enters the bloodstream. Picture: Thomas Holder

London - Widespread advice to avoid exposure to the sun is under question after a study suggested that sunbathing has startling benefits to health.

Despite its strong links with skin cancer, they found that exposure to the sun seems to cut the odds of heart attacks and an early death – on top of the widely accepted benefit of healthy bones.

But British experts stressed that skin cancer can kill.

A team from the University of Copenhagen analysed the health records of the entire population of Denmark over the age of 40 – more than four million people – and found that those who had been diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer were 4 percent less likely to have suffered a heart attack than others.

They were half as likely to have died young and the data suggested their bones were stronger.

‘The overall data indirectly suggest that sun exposure for many individuals may have beneficial health effects and therefore question the widespread advice that sun exposure should be avoided,’ they reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Non-melanoma skin cancer, which develops in the upper layers of the skin, is one of the most common cancers in the world. There are an estimated 100,000 new cases every year in the UK, but survival rates are high.

It is distinguished from the more serious and rarer melanoma, which can spread quickly to other parts in the body and kills 2,000 people in Britain every year.

British experts questioned the conclusions. Dr Claire Knight, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Overexposure to UV rays from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer.

‘We all need some sun in our lives to make vitamin D, which is crucial for healthy bones. But the key is to enjoy the sun safely and avoid sunburn.’

The Danish researchers sounded a note of caution by saying that sun-worshippers might benefit simply from making more vitamin D, which is credited with a host of health benefits. It could also be that they have a more healthy, outdoor lifestyle. - Daily Mail