By Dr. Jeffrey Gladden
When it comes to maintaining health and wellness, we often focus so heavily on our dietary intake that we forget about one crucial nutrient we rarely get enough of. What is this oh-so-essential nutrient? It’s natural light, and it has the power to transform our health when we take steps to incorporate it into our daily routine.
Because light exposure affects the body on a cellular level, it triggers a cascade of beneficial effects that extend far beyond what even the current body of knowledge understands. Unfortunately, though, because most of us are stuck inside for the majority of the day, we rarely get the light exposure our bodies so desperately need.
Ready to discover how light can dramatically enhance your well-being? Read on to learn about the profound health benefits of exposing your body to light.
Triggers Vitamin D Production
Adequate blood levels of vitamin D are critical for maintaining overall health. This essential vitamin regulates the activity of over 200 genes and plays a critical role in human growth and development. But unlike other essential vitamins, which must come from the foods and supplements we consume, vitamin D can be synthesized in our skin through light exposure.
Unfortunately, though, as a result of our largely indoor lifestyle, over a billion people suffer from vitamin D deficiency worldwide. In the United States alone, nearly 42% of adults have inadequate vitamin D levels, which can result in a variety of health issues, including:
- Bone density loss
- Muscle weakness and cramping
- Joint and bone pain
- Higher vulnerability to infections and immune system problems
- Heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes
To get adequate vitamin D from light exposure, you must expose your bare skin to UV rays, which means you need to get sunlight on a daily basis. Approximately 15-20 minutes of sun exposure three days per week is typically sufficient.
Helps Balance Hormones
Light — red and near-infrared light, specifically — help balance the body’s hormones. In males, full-body exposure to these wavelengths of light increases testosterone production. In females, these wavelengths stimulate progesterone, DHEA, and estradiol production. Research also suggests that light exposure can help enhance thyroid function.
In both males and females, optimized hormonal balance increases longevity, energy levels, physical performance, sleep quality, and a wide variety of other markers of health. Though you can enjoy the benefits of both red and near-infrared light exposure by getting adequate daily sunlight, you’ll also expose yourself to UV rays in the process.
If you’re worried about the potentially negative effects of UV exposure, consider implementing full-body red light therapy on a regular basis. Just eight to 10 minutes of red light exposure each day can provide an uptick in hormone production and better hormonal balance.
Reduces Pain and Inflammation
Certain wavelengths of light are highly effective in the fight against localized inflammation and pain. Because red and near-infrared light are able to penetrate even through bone, these wavelengths are especially beneficial for helping to ease joint troubles associated with arthritis and other health conditions.
Because red light exposure helps stimulate collagen production, it can expedite the healing of damaged soft tissues, bone, and joints. Because these wavelengths also stimulate our mitochondria to produce more ATP, they encourage more rapid cellular regeneration, which further enhances healing.
Improves Sleep and Circadian Response
The human body has a natural sleep-wake cycle that’s designed to follow the rising and setting of the sun. This is referred to as our circadian rhythm. But because most people spend a large percentage of their time staring at some type of screen, our bodies tend to fall out of this natural rhythm.
Blue light, which naturally occurs in the morning, suppresses melatonin production. Essentially, blue light tells our brains to remain awake and alert. Here’s the problem: The screens we stare at all day emit a blue light spectrum, which tells our brains to stay awake. If you fiddle around on your phone while you lie in bed at night, you’re essentially telling your body not to fall asleep.
Red light, on the other hand, which naturally occurs in the evening, triggers our bodies to produce melatonin. This helps us gradually relax, so we can fall asleep according to our natural circadian rhythm. However, because many of us go to sleep on a rather erratic schedule, we further throw off our biologically designed rhythm.
Getting regular exposure to red and near-infrared wavelengths of light helps the body produce more melatonin, which not only improves our circadian response but also improves sleep quality. Because being in sync with our natural circadian clock improves overall well-being and longevity, it’s quite clear that regular light exposure is critical for maintaining optimal health.
Light is an essential nutrient you must consume regularly! Ideally, you should expose your body to natural sunlight, if possible. However, if you’re stuck inside or live in a cold, dreary Northern climate, consider implementing full-body red light therapy on a regular basis.