LA Times – Role of Light in Health

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This article in the Los Angeles Times shares research from Dr. John Ott and Phillip Hughes Ph.D. which highlight the dangers of artificial light and the use of sun glasses. Published in 1980, this research was cutting edge for the time and awakened the general public to the need for full spectrum lighting and sunlight for optimal health.

Role of Light in Health

The Los Angeles Times. February 17, 1980

“Super Nutrient” Lacking in Most Artificially Illuminated Rooms, Scientists Warn. Tinted and dark glasses can harm your health and may depress your immune system and endocrine glands! At a speed of 186,000 miles a second from a source 93 million miles away rates with food, water and air support system on earth.

It is light from the sun. But light also comes from manmade sources, and therein lies the problem. Artificial light can make students irritable in school, and reduce production among factory workers. That kind of light can interfere with calcium absorption in the elderly and contribute to brittle bones, scientific studies show.

On the positive side, light can be used to control jaundice (using so-called “billy lights”, UV) in the newborn. It also can boost beef production; cattle that spend “longer days” under correct artificial light are 10% to 15% heavier, with no increase in food consumption.

The light that some scientists consider a “super nutrient” is full-spectrum light, which comes from the sun or from fluorescent bulbs of special design that simulate sunlight. (Actually, despite the designation of these artificial lights, they did not match the full spectrum of sunlight.)

Incandescent bulbs and most fluorescent bulbs do not produce full-spectrum light. This may be contributing to “mal-illumination,” say photo biologists, the scientists who specialize in the study of light’s effects on living creatures.

The science of photobiology is a recent one. Some photo biologists say doctors showed little interest in the subject until about five years ago. The American Society of Photo biology was founded only eight years ago.

One way of rating light is by a color rendering index, the CRI of 100. Full-spectrum fluorescent, 91; standard cool white fluorescent, 68; other fluorescent, 56.

Under natural light or an artificial source that duplicates natural light, there is less human fatigue and stress and better visual acuity and production, studies have shown.


  • Plants grown under artificial lighting that comes close to duplicating full-spectrum sunlight can be made to flower on preset schedules by controlling day length.
  • In dairies, changing the length of light exposure from natural 9 to 12 hours of light to 16 hours of fluorescent light of the full-spectrum type increased the milk yield by 10% to 15%.
  • Full-spectrum light is used to treat psoriasis, neonatal jaundice and herpes simplex infections.
  • Rays from sunlight stimulate the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ in the head. This gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that seems to control many bodily functions. When injected into animals, melatonin induces sleep, inhibits ovulation and modifies the secretion of other hormones. Experts say that both plastic and regular eyeglasses and contact lenses block some of the ultraviolet rays that travel through the eye to the pineal gland.
  • At the Center for Improvement of Undergraduate Education, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., students working in a class with fluorescent light closely approximating sunlight experienced a significant increase in visual acuity and a reduction in overall fatigue, compared to performance under regular fluorescent lights.

John Ott, of Sarasota, Fla., a pioneer in light and health research, for the last 50 year has been warning against unhealthy effects of some kinds of light. Earlier, he was rebuffed, but now there is basic research that supports his ideas.

Ott said he first noticed strange happenings in living things under certain light sources when he was working on time-lapse photography for Walt Disney movies.

At the Bronx Zoo curators credit full-spectrum lighting with helping the tufted puffin, a shy sea bird, survive in captivity. Under the influence of “indoor sunshine,” the puffins, for the first time, laid eggs that hatched.

Strange things happened in Burnett Park Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., when sunlight-simulating lights were installed in an effort to stop vandalism. “The zoo became a veritable maternity ward,” said director Charles T. Clift.

“The cougars fell in love all over again and produced their fourth litter, we collected five goose eggs, at least 8 lambs were born, and the deer population increased by 20. Big Lizzie gave birth to a bear cub. The wallaby produced a new mini-kangaroo and the chimpanzee got pregnant.”

Phillip Hughes Ph.D., a scientist at Duro-Test Corp., North Bergen, N.H., said the Syracuse zoo’s experience is just one example of the effects of natural-like light. Hughes is a vice president at Duro-Test, the firm that makes the most widely used full-spectrum fluorescent light, Vita-Lite.

A specialist in neurological sciences, physiology and psychology, Hughes said. “Light is definitely a nutrient. It is essential to life and the whole endocrine system. Light has a role in triggering hormones.

Vitamin D is synthesized by ultraviolet in the skin. Vitamin D receptors help proper bone development and prevent development of rickets. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium.

“Under light not closely approximating the sun, one study found calcium absorption dropped off in the elderly in the indoors in winter. But those under full-spectrum lighting had an increase in calcium absorption.”

In an upcoming book on holistic medicine, produced with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, Hughes says: “Along with food, air, and water, sunlight is a most important survival factor in human life. Solar radiation activates other important biochemical events in our bodies involved in endocrine control, timing of our biological clocks, entrainment of 24-hour circadian rhythms, immunologic responsiveness, sexual growth and development, regulation of stress and fatigue, control of viral and cold infections, and dampening of functional disorders of the nervous system.”

He said the last two or three generations are the first to have spent three-fourths of their lives under artificial light. “We do not fully know the effect,” he said.

The Russians know more than Americans, perhaps, about the health effects of various kinds of light. Under light that is full-spectrum, Russian scientific reports show, production goes up and absenteeism goes down. This kind of light is mandated in many Russian workplaces.

In schools, it has been demonstrated in Russia, full-spectrum lighting or ultraviolet treatment helps academic performance, improves student behavior and lessens fatigue.

The Russians practice light therapy on coal miners who spend their working day out of natural light. Once a day coal miners must disrobe and spend half an hour in natural light or under full-spectrum artificial lighting.

Hughes said the Russians have reported that this regiment is useful in both preventing and treating black lung disease. “The Russian researchers and health specialists have documented that the body’s tolerance to environmental pollutants is increased by full-spectrum light, which also increased the effectiveness of immunization procedures,” he said.

West Germany’s government restricts the use of cool white limited-spectrum fluorescent bulbs in public buildings because of their distorted spectral output.

Ott, the pioneer health and light expert, maintains that sodium vapor lights, now offered as the latest technological advancement, do not reproduce the full spectrum of natural light.

“The Fort Worth, Texas school district was one of the first to install sodium lighting in perhaps a dozen schools. It was one of the first to take them all out because complaints of both teachers and pupils of headaches, eyestrain and other health-related problems,” he said.

Ott contends that another major problem with all gaseous-discharge types of lights, including the mercury vapor and limited-spectrum fluorescent light, is that they emit radiation that grossly weakens muscle strength, affecting both academic achievement and behavior.

A recent Consumers’ Research magazine report on the risk to health from some fluorescent lamps suggested new probes by industry and the government.

“There are good reasons, in our opinion, for government agencies and industry engineers to initiate promptly laboratory research programs on the effects of the spectral characteristics of artificial lighting on animals used in research and on human beings,” it said.

A psychiatrist who uses light in his therapy is Dr. H.L. Newbold of New York. “Before we began civilizing ourselves into semi-invalidism, we received an abundance of full-spectrum light: the kind that nature provides for us in the form of sunlight,” says Newbold, author of “Mega-nutrients for Your Nerves.” “What we now get is a mere fraction of the spectrum.”

“Once we are all ensconced behind our office desks or in our living room armchairs, science efficiently furnishes us with electric light.

“If your company is really up to date you are probably working under fluorescent light, which may be an industrial engineer’s dream of perfection – but happens to be the most nutrient-deficient of all lighting devices “Even ordinary light bulbs are preferable to the total artificiality of the fluorescent environment.”

Newbold uses full-spectrum lighting in his office and has a special plastic in place of glass in his office windows to allow the ultraviolet from natural daylight to enter.

To let the ultraviolet from full-spectrum lighting into the pathway to the brain, he suggests special lenses for spectacles and contracts for his patients.

In the treatment of yellow jaundice, newborns used to get complete blood transfers. That was until a nurse noticed that a jaundiced infant seemed to be getting better on his own. The infant’s crib was near an open window, and natural light was streaming in. The babies near the wall and out of reach of sunbeams were not doing as well.

So light treatment was tried on babies with jaundice, and it worked. Now, about 25,000 newborns a year get the treatment. In fact, three famous babies received the treatment some years ago at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. Three of the Kienast quints had jaundice, and they were cured by full-spectrum lighting. When they went home, it was to a nursery with full-spectrum light.

How Lighting and Glasses Can Affect Your Moods

The type of lighting in your house and office can affect your mood and may even help prevent or cure arthritis and other diseases, an expert has revealed.

Even the color tint of the lenses you wear in your glasses or sunglasses can rob you of energy by preventing certain light wavelengths from entering your system, according to John Ott, director of the Environmental Health and Light Research Institute in Sarasota, Fla.

“Light is well documented that light entering the eyes influences the master glands, the pituitary and pineal glands, which control the entire endocrine system.”

Different kinds of lighting conditions include natural, unfiltered sunlight, incandescent light bulbs, fluorescent light, sunlight filtered through different kinds of glass, and sunlight reflected of different color interiors.

In experiments on first grade students in Sarasota, researchers have found that children who work in a classroom with cool white fluorescent lighting are more hyperactive than students in another classroom with full-spectrum fluorescent tubes which duplicate natural sunlight but with shields to stop harmful radiation. “Under the standard, cool white fluorescent lighting, some first graders showed nervous fatigue, irritability, lapses of attention and hyperactive behavior,” says Ott, author of Health And Light. “Within a week after the new lights were installed, the children settled down and paid more attention to their teachers.”

Dr. Ott says that different kinds of lights can also affect the course of disease. Experiments with mice have shown that mice who live under pink fluorescent light develop cancer more quickly than mice who live under white fluorescent light and natural light.

Tinted sunglasses can also affect you physically and psychologically because they block out certain colors of the light spectrum that you need for health, Ott claims. He says he persuaded a man with prostate cancer to stop wearing pink tinted eyeglasses. “For three years he has worn new full-spectrum clear ultraviolet transmitting spectacles and, apparently, his problem has disappeared.”



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One Comment

tltandr said:

on October 11th, 2009


DR TAN tjiauw liat


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