Let There Be Light - How You Can Use Natural Sunlight To Enhance Your Health and Wellbeing
IF Insider No. 54
In our last issue (IF Insider No. 53) we examined the effects of collagen supplementation on your health and wellbeing: what role it plays in your body, and most importantly, should you consider collagen supplementation.
For our premium subscribers, in this week’s Research Spotlight, we are going to take a look at a study examining the effects of your home lighting choices on your circadian rhythms and your sleep.
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How The Sun Affects Your Health
In this issue, we are going to take a close look at light. Some of the things we are going to discuss you may not know, and others you might need just a refresher on them. And some of these things might actually change your thinking on the way you think about light, particularly about the sun, and about the health of your body.
First of all, light that comes from the sun is the very foundation of life here on earth, as it is ultimately at the base of our entire food supply. As you likely learned when you were in school, the light we can see, visible light, is only a small sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes everything from very short x-rays, gamma and cosmic rays to very long wavelengths such as infrared radiation waves which can be perceived as heat, as well as microwaves and radio waves.
The light we can see ranges from about 400 nanometers at the shorter violet end to 700 nm at the longer wavelength red end of the visible spectrum. You might remember from school the colors of the visible light spectrum as the name Roy G. Biv which stands for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.
On opposite ends of the visible light spectrum and invisible to the human eye is the shorter wave ultraviolet light at one end and longer wave infrared at the other. Both of which are present in sunlight and we will talk more about these wavelengths in a moment.
Again, the light from the sun is the foundation of life on earth due to the process of photosynthesis. Plants take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, plus water, and they use the energy from sunlight to make sugars which serve to nourish the plant and are also used by animals and us humans for food. CO2 + Water + Sunlight = Sugars.
Plants have these tiny interesting structures embedded in their leaves known as chloroplasts, sac-like organelles with a double membrane, where photosynthesis takes place. Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll which is a green pigment that the plant uses to make food and is what gives plants their green color.
Take a look at this diagram of the chemical structure of chlorophyll and you will see the symbol for magnesium right in the center. Without magnesium, the plant cannot capture the sunlight. If any of you are gardeners or have houseplants, you will know that if your plants have a magnesium deficiency they will turn yellow and get sick.
There is a theory that the chloroplasts in plants came from bacteria that formed a symbiotic which just means a mutually beneficial relationship with each other some 650 million years ago. Or maybe the plants captured the bacteria and put them to work, who knows. But the relationship has obviously worked out!
About 50 million years later, we humans came along. And we sort of did the same thing. There is an organelle in our cells called the mitochondria and this is where the energy we need to live is produced.
You can think of them as being tiny power plants within each cell. There is also a theory about how they got there and it’s thought that like the chloroplast, these mitochondrial organelles also developed a symbiotic relationship or were captured and put to work.
The scientist who first outlined this theory in the late 1960s was the late Lyn Margulis who was the first primary modern champion of the theory of symbiosis. Her work, which said that cells that have a nucleus evolved as a result of a symbiotic relationship with bacteria, was at first ridiculed like so many other scientific pioneers. Today, her theory has transformed our modern understanding of the evolution of nucleated cells.
As an interesting aside, Dr. Margulis, who held a Ph.D. in genetics, was also the co-developer with British chemist James Lovelock of the Gaia hypothesis that proposes the Earth functions as a self-regulating system. She was also at one time married to astrophysicist Carl Sagan.
The mitochondria use the electrons from the food we eat to make the energy to power our cells, doing the reverse of what chloroplasts in plants do. So remember that the formula for photosynthesis is CO2 (carbon dioxide) plus water + sunlight = sugar or carbohydrates and oxygen. The mitochondria take the carbohydrates formed by photosynthesis and convert them into carbon dioxide and water with the resulting energy forming ATP which powers our cells. So plants are breathing out oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, which we humans use in cellular respiration, and we breathe out CO2 as a byproduct that plants use to make more carbohydrates.
Now, unlike the chloroplasts, which can soak up the sun as it strikes the plant’s leaves, our mitochondria are buried deep within our cells and are physically shielded from light. They are in all cells but are most concentrated in the cells of organs that use the most energy like the heart, which contains an estimated 5000 mitochondria per cell. But light energy can and does come to the mitochondria indirectly through the hemoglobin in our blood cells.
Remember the diagram of the chemical structure of chlorophyll? Plants are relatively simple organisms compared to humans and don’t need as many electrons as we do to function and can survive off the electrons present in chlorophyll. Humans get additional electrons from the sun, but not by the sun shining directly on the mitochondria but they get these electrons indirectly through the bloodstream, specifically through the hemoglobin in our red blood cells.
Now take a look below at the chemical structure of hemoglobin on the right, which is the molecule in the blood that carries oxygen to the tissues. Compare its structure with chlorophyll on the left. The only difference is the central element, which is iron instead of magnesium. Remarkably similar isn’t it?
So when the sun strikes your skin, in a few minutes the blood comes to the surface in a process called dermal pooling, and your red blood cells get bathed in sunlight that comes through your skin. The red blood cells absorb specific wavelengths of light in the purple and infrared frequencies. The red blood cells then travel throughout the body and bring that harvested sunlight to the mitochondria of every cell in the form of extra electrons, which your body can use for energy production. So if you get adequate sunlight, intermittent fasting may be easier and you may not be as hungry.
There is also evidence that exposure to early morning light which contains a lot of red wavelengths prepares the mitochondria in the skin to protect itself from the ultraviolet UVB and UVA light that comes later in the day.
It’s the opposite of blue light which causes a lot of problems including mitochondrial destruction. The other way our bodies get light is of course through our eyes. And I’ve spoken before about the harm that blue light can do. The master clock, located in the SCN of the pineal gland in the brain, is regulated by light, which comes in through the eyes.
So by staying inside most of the time, never seeing the natural light of the sun and exposing ourselves to mostly blue light from our electronic screens, LED light bulbs, and light that is filtered through glass, we literally live in a toxic blue light environment which we have come to accept as normal. And not only is that blue light being taken in by our eyes, but receptors in our skin are also sensing it as well.
Most people think of being in the sun at 8 or 9 am the same as 3 or 4 pm and that’s just not true. The color temperature of the sunlight varies depending on the time of day so
At sunrise we have visible and IR light mainly. At 10 AM we add UVA light, which is one of the two types of ultraviolet light, to the visible and IR light. At solar noon we get full complement UVA/UVB/visible/IR light. At 1:30 PM we have UVA/Visible/IR light and at dusk, we have Visible and IR light. Solar noon does not necessarily coincide with 12 noon on your clock. You can Google the term “when is solar noon” and this will take you to a time and date page that will give you solar noon in your area.
Vitamin D is made when ultraviolet light, specifically UVB rays, react with a compound in the skin and the UVB index is greater than 3.
The color temperature of a Zoom screen, your iPhone or Android, your iPad or other tablets, mimics solar noon. So every time you look at your screen or your cell phone, you are telling your brain that it is solar noon. That blue light then destroys the melatonin in your eye and in your brain and it also short circuits the system in your mitochondria, which depend on melatonin for proper functioning, which is possibly responsible for much of the poor health we see as modern humans.
We are creatures of the earth. We are meant to be outside as we evolved under the sun. But modern medicine along with the pharmaceutical industry as well as the sunscreen industry, which by the way is a 10 billion dollar industry, would have you believe that any amount of sun exposure is detrimental to your health.
But what about skin cancer you say? Well, the original studies done on ultraviolet light exposure were done in rodents...animals who are active at night, not during the day, and whose skin is not suited to sun exposure. Plus most of us don’t get much early morning light exposure to pre-condition our skin to the more intense light during the day. Science has shown that sunlight in the eyes sends a signal to the skin to make more pigment. Some people think that by wearing sunglasses all the time, we are actually telling our skin that we are actually in the shade and our skin then does not do anything in terms of extra pigment production to protect us, actually perhaps making us more susceptible to sunburn.
And, we are all way overexposed to blue light, both our eyes and our skin. The most common cancer of the eye is ocular melanoma and it’s been shown that exposure to blue light is a causative agent. Blue light is also thought to play a part in the development of macular degeneration as well as cataracts.
We are NOT telling you to go out in the midday sun and get a burn. But we are suggesting that exposure to early morning sun could possibly be protective for your skin but more importantly, it also sets your master circadian clock for the day which runs all the cellular circadian clocks in your body.
Also, sunscreens have come under fire lately as some of them have been found to contain cancer-causing chemicals. Scientists at Oregon State University recently found that sunscreens that contain zinc oxide, a common ingredient, not only lost much of their effectiveness after two hours of exposure to ultraviolet light but actually became toxic.
And we strongly recommend that you take precautions to reduce your exposure to blue light by wearing blue blocker glasses when you are working on your computer or phone or tablet, and by limiting your light exposure after the sun goes down by wearing blue blockers or using red bulbs in your house. You should also be using a filter on your computer and phone which blocks blue light. Either Flux which is free or there is a software called Iris.
Blue light also directly adversely affects your skin, including accelerating aging by causing skin cell shrinkage and death and destroying collagen and can also lead to unwanted pigmentation.
Also, we are just beginning to understand how vitamin D levels affect human health and vitamin d is of course made in human skin on exposure to sunlight. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere it’s really impossible to get enough sun exposure during the colder months to keep your Vitamin D levels up so supplementation is recommended at least during the fall and winter.
For many of us, our natural circadian clocks are disrupted and this is especially true for those people who work night shifts such as hospital workers, manufacturing jobs, and the like. Not only are shift workers not getting the benefits of morning sun exposure because they are sleeping but most likely they are working under blue lights. One study showed that just four days of simulated shift work reduced the participants’ insulin sensitivity and increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Other research has clearly shown that risks of certain diseases go down with more sun exposure including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer. Most researchers credit this with higher vitamin D levels but I suspect it might be more complicated than this, just looking at how sunlight affects mitochondria, our circadian clocks, and communicates with our brain and the endocrine system through the skin, independent of Vitamin D.
It’s rather ironic that during the pandemic, people were advised to stay indoors in spite of the fact that viruses, including the coronavirus, are exquisitely sensitive to UV light and it’s also well known now that higher levels of blood vitamin D, which is made in the skin on exposure to sunlight, is thought to be protective in terms of both contracting covid and protecting against severe disease. So these recommendations probably actually made things worse.
So the takeaways here are:
Try to get out in the morning sun as soon as you get up. Ideally, that is when the sun is first up but if you can’t get up that early then go out as soon as you can after you get out of bed, no contacts or glasses or sunglasses as you want those early morning rays to get to your retina. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy as the infrared rays that you want will penetrate the cloud cover. And you want as much of your skin exposed as you can.
You want to stay out at least 5 or ten minutes (the ideal would be 20 to 30 minutes) to get your master internal clock set for the day. You will likely find after only a few days of doing this that your mood will be better and you will sleep better that evening.
During the day, try to get outside several times a day for five to ten minutes to expose your eyes and skin to the sun. This will keep your circadian clocks on track and also gives you just a bit more skin exposure. I try to go out ideally about once every hour for five minutes.
When you are working at your computer we strongly recommend blue blocker glasses and also to put them on after the sun goes down until it’s time to go to bed. We recommend the blue blocker glasses from Lucia Eyes. If you use our link we have negotiated a twenty percent discount (use code ELLENBRITT20). Also, use protective software on your computers such as Flux or Iris, and the night setting on your phone to shield your eyes from blue light.
If at all possible, work with just natural light in your house during the day and/or replace the LED bulbs in your house with incandescents if you can find them, as they have much less blue light
There is a whole field of research now on the effects of red light on human health, called photobiomodulation, which we will dive into with much more depth in a coming issue of the Insider. If you want to supplement with red light for skin health, healing of muscular pain, and so forth, you might consider purchasing a red light for home use. I (Ellen) personally have a small red light unit made by EMR Tek and highly recommend this company, as they have lights with a very low rate of flicker. We have negotiated a special 20 percent discount for our IF Insider readers when you order through our link. Again, we will talk about the use of red lights very soon in the Insider.
So, we certainly hope that you come away from this having learned some things you didn’t know and coming to the understanding that researchers are just at the beginning of understanding how sunlight affects our bodies. This includes how you can learn to use the sun to improve your health, both physically and emotionally, instead of always considering sunlight to be your enemy.
How does the skin sense sunlight? An integrative view of light-sensing molecules. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology C: Photochemistry Reviews (IF12.927), Pub Date : 2021-02-22, Leonardo Vinicius Monteiro de Assis, Paulo Newton Tonolli, Maria Nathalia Moraes, Maurício S. Baptista, Ana Maria de Lauro Castrucci. DOI: 10.1016/j.jphotochemrev.2021.100403
Shinhmar, H., Hogg, C., Neveu, M. et al. Weeklong improved colour contrasts sensitivity after single 670 nm exposures associated with enhanced mitochondrial function. Sci Rep 11, 22872 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-02311-1
Why It Matters
“It's always sunny above the clouds. Always. Every day on earth - every day I have ever had - was secretly sunny, after all.”
~ Caitlin Moran (b. 1975) - Catherine Elizabeth Moran is an English journalist, author, and broadcaster at The Times, a British daily national newspaper based in London.
What We Are Reading 📚
With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value.
Denise - I just picked up a copy of Cheryl Major’s latest book, The Major Method: Eat Like Your LIfe Depends On It 'Cause It Does. Not only is Cheryl a member of the Fast Factor Circle, but she is also a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, and chronicles her accidental recovery from years of struggle with chronic depression by changing how she eats. Cheryl Major is also the author of Eat Your Blues Away.
Ellen - I am just diving into Tiago Forte’s highly anticipated new book, just released on June 14, Building A Second Brain: A Proven Method To Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential.
Because we now have unprecedented access to much of the world’s knowledge, we can easily get overwhelmed and frustrated trying to keep up with things and organizing information so we know how to find it and use it effectively. I love the concept of creating a “second brain,” meaning a digitally based, personal system for knowledge management that not only lets you find stuff but allows you to make connections between and among ideas.
Tiago Forte’s book promises to deliver the goods!
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