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Scans Show Tanning May Be Addictive, Literally

August 16, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Yes, really; a small study did find increased blood flow in regions of the brain associated with experiencing reward when frequent tanners were exposed to ultraviolet radiation.

Similar brain activity has been measured in people addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The study, published online earlier this year in Addiction Biology, examined seven “frequent tanners”—people who reported using a tanning bed at least three times a week. The researchers exposed their UV-loving subjects to either a real or a filtered (i.e., sham) UVA/UVB tanning light in a commercial tanning bed.

SPECT brain scans revealed that blood flow increased in the dorsal striatum, anterior insula, and medial orbitofrontal cortex—reward centers—during exposure to real UV light, but not when the UV frequencies were filtered out. Study participants also reported less desire for more tanning after exposure to real UV rays than after basking in sham UV light, suggesting that desires for reward had been sated.

Corresponding author Bryon Adinoff, MD, of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, told MedPage Today:

This may open the conversation to thinking about it in a new way—thinking about when you get exposed to sunlight, that there really is something that happens in your brain. That there really may be an intrinsic rewarding aspect to it that has a neurobiologic basis. If that’s the case, then let’s take it a step further and consider that maybe it could be addictive.

Dr. Adinoff said that leads to new ways of thinking about treatments for what he and colleagues have previously suggested could be “problematic tanning behavior” and “tanning addiction disorder.”

“Despite the near-universal awareness of skin cancer risk and the acceleration of the skin’s aging process, the use of tanning salons continues to rise,” the study says in its conclusion.

“If central nervous system reward mechanisms, similar to those observed in other addictive disorders, are involved in frequent tanning, novel and more dramatic behavioral and pharmacologic treatment approaches to tanning may be useful in preventing morbidity and mortality.”

Yes, we’re now talking about possible drug therapy (besides sunblock) for tanning addiction disorder. That’s “thinking about it in a new way,” all right.

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Our Facebook page may not be addictive, but we like to think it’s at least intriguing.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging

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