The Golden Healer - The Beginning of the Light Therapy
June 1, 2020
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Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, is widely known as a safe, non-invasive, and non-pharmaceutical treatment option for various conditions, including depression, joint and muscle conditions, skin disorders, and insomnia. Today, light therapy is an FDA-approved and MDASAP-approved cosmetic procedure for all skin conditions. It provides anti-inflammatory healing, increases collagen production, and reduces acne scars, giving the skin they always wanted.
The History of Light Therapy
While NASA was using this form of therapy in the 1960s, light therapy has been around for hundreds of years. Solariums existed in China around 6,000 BC. During that time, Chinese architects designed their homes facing the south so that sun would heat the interior of the home, a design practice still being used today. Families gather around the windows, absorbing as much sunlight as possible. It wasn’t long until solar-heated homes became a common practice in Greece and Rome.
But this is just a small opening into the history of light therapy. We’re going to dig a little deeper and show you how light therapy started, from the Chinese to the Greeks to today.
Light therapy originates back to the ancient Greeks. Heliopolis, the city of the sun, was known for its healing temples, which used sunlight spectrums to assist with specific medical issues. This is where heliotherapy, the exposure to light, comes from.
Socrates believed the ideal home should cool in the summer and warm in the winter, a concept we still believe today. However, 2,500 years ago, the Greeks didn’t have the heating systems we have today.
During that time, they would use wood to heat their homes and cook. Wood was also used for fuel, to build homes and ships. But it was destroying the local ecosystem. Plato compared the hills of Attica to the bones of a body. He said,
“ All the richer and softer parts have fallen away…..and the mere skeleton of the land remains.”
With wood damaging the local environment, the Greeks sourced wood further away. This resulted in the cost of fuel prices increasing. Luckily, they had an alternative option for energy which was the sun - and it was free.
Greeks took advantage of the sun and started to build their homes with the sun in mind. The homes faced the south, allowing access to the sun during winter. The citizens were ecstatic as it saved them money and resources.
Greeks fell in love with their solar-friendly homes. Theophrastus, a naturalist, commented that Greeks believed,
the sun provides life-sustaining heat in animals and plants. It also probably supplies the heat of earthly flames. They believed they were catching the sun when making fire.
Exposure to natural sunlight became known as an important element to a healthy life. Oribasius, an ancient medical authority, stated that south-facing homes were healthy places to live in due to their exposure to the sun.
Dr. Niels Finsen, a Danish physician and scientist, received a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1903 for his contributions in treating lupus vulgaris and other illnesses via concentrated light radiation.
His award and recognition opened up endless possibilities for light therapy in the medical industry. Finsen discussed the use of ‘chemical rays of light’ in 1896. When he said ‘chemical light,’ he meant ionizing light, such as ultraviolet rays.
Decades of research proved that light therapy produced therapeutic benefits for living tissue. In the 1960s, in Europe, single wavelengths through photo-stimulation had therapeutic effects on tissue. An example is the practice of light therapy on newborns with jaundice.
1980s - 1990s
Light therapy gained popularity from the 1980s to 1990s, with more clinics and medical facilities seeing the benefits of light therapy to treat conditions and illnesses. The cosmetic benefits of light therapy became recognized during this period of time.
Professional athletes discovered light therapy as an ideal option for sports-related injuries as well. Research showed that an injured person who undergoes light therapy recovers 50 times faster than a person who doesn’t.
The development of red light therapy became unstoppable by the early 2000s. More companies jumped on board to produce light therapy devices for medical and aesthetic purposes. The devices come in varying lights and sizes to help aid specific conditions. Some research also found that red light therapy combined with topical cream can kill specific cancer cells.
We hope this quick background on the roots of light therapy has given you more insight into its effectiveness as a solution for clinical and aesthetic treatment. If you’re considering your own private label, we’re more than happy to explore this journey with you.
Here at Kaiyan Medical, we ensure all our red light therapy devices are FDA-certified and MDASAP-approved, ensuring you the safest products for professional use. To learn more about our light therapy products and devices, contact our team.
Solar energy — History. 2. Architecture and solar radiation — History. I. Perlin, JohnJoint author. II. Title.
A GOLDEN THREAD- 2500 YEARS OF SOLAR ARCHITECTURE AND TECHNOLOGY by KEN BUTTI, JOHN PERLIN
Which is the vitamin that is not normally found in any vegetarian food? Vitamin D.
Scientists have defined vitamins as organic (carbon-containing) chemicals that must be obtained from dietary sources because they are not produced by our bodies. Vitamins play a crucial role in our body’s metabolism, but only tiny amounts are needed to fill that role.
The discovery of Vitamin D was the culmination of a long search for a way to cure rickets in the 1920s, a painful childhood bone disease. Within a decade, the fortification of foods with vitamin D was on the way, and rickets became rare in the United States. However, research results suggest that vitamin D may have a role in other aspects of human health.
Vitamin Dit’s absent from all-natural foods except for fish and egg yolks, and even when it’s obtained from foods, it must be transformed by the body before it can do any good. That’s why the energy of the Sun is so important.
The sun’s energy turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver and then your kidneys to transform it into active vitamin D.
The main cause of vitamin D deficiency is a lack of direct sunlight
Humans, day by day, spend less time outdoors. Most people work indoors now, and many of our leisure pursuits occur in an indoor setting as well. What’s more, when we are outside, many people avoid the sun as much as possible. The result is the body not absorbing enough UVB rays to create the amount of vitamin D it requires. Often, symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are quite mild. When noticed, they mainly consist of:
Frequent bone fractures.
Muddled thought processes.
Soft or deformed bones.
Though you may not notice any symptoms, that doesn’t mean that vitamin D deficiency doesn’t present serious health risks. These include:
Children may develop severe asthma.
Immune system problems, raising your risk of infection.
Insulin resistance, impacting your body’s ability to process sugar and increasing your risk of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and glucose intolerance.
Osteoporosis, a condition that includes brittle bones that are more likely to fracture.
Reduced cognitive function.
Rickets, a bone disease that causes soft bones and skeletal deformities.
Other conditions that would happen without enough sunlight
Less chance of having a baby
Without sunlight, there will be more melatonin in a woman’s body. This is a hormone that suppresses fertility, thereby reducing her chances of conceiving a baby. Moreover, women who get less sunlight reach their menopause earlier than those who are exposed to the Sun. Men can also suffer from a lack of sunlight; it directly influences testosterone levels.
It’s believed that if children don’t get enough sunlight, they’ll be more at risk of developing multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system when they become adults.
All those aches and pains
Without sunlight, be prepared to get more pains all over your body. Sunlight helps to warm the body’s muscles and reduce the pain caused by inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
No sunny emotions
Without sunlight, we would be forever stuck with the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), commonly known as the winter blues. It’s a form of depression that is specifically caused by a lack of sunlight. Artificial light cannot fully replace natural sunlight.
Recent evidence suggests that vitamin D may help prevent many disorders, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchitis, premenstrual syndrome, increased blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks, and even cancer. Low serum vitamin D levels are also associated with being overweight, abdominal obesity, metabolic syndrome, stroke, and diabetes. In addition, having lower blood vitamin D levels for a long period is associated with increased heart attacks and all-cause mortality.
In Kaiyan medical, we believe in the benefits of light. We believe in healing without chemicals. With our lights, we want you to have the best version of yourself. More at kaiyanmedical.com
While most of us have heard of the ability to hack computers, smartphones, and emails, most aren’t as familiar with hacking the human body. Enter: biohacking.
While it may sound a little out-of-this-world, biohacking is essentially do-it-yourself biology. Biohackers make small changes in their diet or lifestyle to improve their overall well-being and health.
While you’ll find online people selling you different types of biohacking, there are only a few worth mentioning, one being red light therapy. Biohacking methods, like red light therapy, provide the body with more energy and strength, accelerating performance and speed.
What is biohacking?
Let’s dive a bit deeper on this topic.
Biohacking is the practice of changing the body’s chemistry through science and trial and error. In other words, what may work for one person will not work for another.
However, with biohacking, the concept is that we have the power to alter our bodies and brains to become the best versions of ourselves. Essentially, biohacking allows you to take control of your own biology.
Biohacking with light therapy: how light affects the body
You may be struggling with depression, mood swings, skin conditions, inflammation, muscle recovery, or sleep. Luckily, the practice of biohacking with red light therapy has been scientifically proven to affect the body on the cellular level positively. In layman's terms, instead of dealing with symptoms, red light therapy focuses on healing the root issue while improving one’s overall wellness.
A review in The Journal of Rheumatology found that the best treatment for people who have rheumatoid arthritis was via red light therapy treatment. Red light therapy helps the cells rejuvenate for muscle recovery, speeding up recovery time and stimulating muscle growth. One study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that muscle thickness and strength were significantly improved (over 50%) in participants who used red light therapy. For those who suffer from sleep disorders, red light and near-infrared light helps regulate the circadian rhythm and increases natural melatonin production for improved and deep sleep.
The studies show that the human body responds positively to red and near-infrared wavelengths, ranging from 600 to 900 nm. These wavelengths penetrate through the skin, stimulating ATP production in the cell’s mitochondria. As a result, damaged cells are rejuvenated, and new cells are produced, quickening the healing process the body goes through.
This is why red light therapy has become a staple in the biohacking community. Treatments do not focus on one issue; rather it provides the body with multiple healing properties.
Dave Asprey, one of the leaders of the biohacking movement, says, “Light is a massive signal for the brain, the skin, and every cell in your body. Red light, generally, is going to make you feel better and look better.”
If you’ve been wondering, “is red light therapy safe for my skin and eyes?” The answer is yes. Red light therapy is a non-pharmacological and non-invasive treatment that can be used on a routine basis without major side effects. That said, we always recommend that you consult your physician before doing anything.
Is biohacking the future of health?
More and more people are looking for non-invasive and non-pharmacological ways to attain better health and wellness. People want control over their bodies and are straying away from traditional methods such as prescription medication. While that’s happening, biohacking is continuing to develop and implement realistic and non-harmful ways to improve one’s well-being and overall health.
If you’re interested in creating a private label for professional use, we highly recommend you contact our team for more information on the process. We’d love to work with you and open up the possibilities of light therapy to people who want to change their lives for the better.
As humans, we are made of energy and fueled by light. While nutrition and exercise play a role in our well-being and health, light plays a crucial role in us functioning optimally. New and groundbreaking research is unearthing a new understanding of how our cells function and the evidence points to the power of light.
Through technological advancements in science, it’s discovered that our bodies operate similar to a battery. Wavelengths of light give us power, while our overall health determines our ability to receive and maintain the energy from light. And this is where light therapy comes into the equation.
What is Red Light Therapy
Science has proven that our bodies interact with specific wavelengths that benefit our bodies in various ways.
Red light therapy devices, such as light therapy masks, shine red and near-infrared light onto the skin, stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) within the mitochondria. By stimulating ATP, damaged cells heal, and new cells are produced faster than normal. But we’ll talk more about that in-depth a little later.
Red light therapy comprises both red light and infrared wavelengths, penetrating through the skin’s layers, right into the cells. Red light wavelengths boost collagen and elastin and improve cell communication. It penetrates superficially and helps aid various skin conditions.
Near-infrared wavelengths stimulate healing, increase mitochondrial function, and improve blood flow and tissue oxygenation. Near-infrared wavelengths penetrate deeply into the body.
Recharging Your Body From Within
At the core of your body’s healing capabilities are the mitochondria. The mitochondria play a vital role in your internal organs and tissue, including the liver, skin, heart, and muscles. It’s in charge of the body’s energy supply via ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
With both working together, they provide energy to our body and maintain the cell cycle and growth. This is why you’ll often hear the mitochondria referred to as the “powerhouse of the cell.”
Here's how the mitochondria is affected by red light:
LED light wavelengths from 600-800nm(red) and between 810-850nm(infrared) penetrate through the skin into the cells via a red light therapy device.
Light enters the cell's mitochondria, absorbed by chromophores which include EZ water and protein cytochrome c oxidase (CCO), resulting in stimulating activity.
Subsequently, three molecules are affected: Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), and Nitric Oxide (NO).
Interestingly, our body weight is made of 70% water, with 99% of our bodies' molecules also made of water, making it a powerful component in red light therapy treatment.
Research by Prof Gerald Pollock of the University of Washington proved that water adjacent to a cell is structured water, also known as EZ water. This specific water forms a separation of charge, functioning in the body as positive and negative poles - similar to a battery.
What Does “Red Light Therapy” Mean?
While we’ve been talking about red light therapy, what does it actually mean? Typically, “red light therapy” refers to natural light treatments which deliver red and near-infrared wavelengths as natural sunlight using LEDs or cold lasers.
While you may think red light therapy includes all colors of light, it doesn’t. The term doesn’t include blue or white light, and it isn’t equivalent to full-spectrum light. Red light therapy doesn’t rely on heat, differentiating it from other light-based treatments such as infrared saunas and heat therapy.
Red light therapy is also known as RLT, photobiomodulation (PBM), phototherapy, LED therapy, LED light therapy, infrared therapy, low-level laser therapy, or low-level light therapy (LLLT).
Red Light Therapy: The Multilevel Treatment
As stated before, red light therapy works to heal the entire body and functions on multiple levels.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
Retrograde mitochondrial signaling
Reactive oxygen species
Water, opsins, chromophores, cytochrome c oxidase
Gene transcription factors
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
Inflammation, Cytoprotection, Proliferation
Stem cell production and migration
Immune cell viability
Retrograde mitochondrial signaling
Transforming growth factor
Pro-and anti-inflammatory cytokines
Mitochondrial membrane potential
Muscles: Increase endurance, tone density
Brain: Improves cognition and immune
Nerves: Repair and pain relief
Healing bones, tendons, and wounds
Increases hair growth
Improvement of the collagen network, anti-aging, skin disorders
Fat re-absorption improved by enhanced micro-circulation
Improved immunity and lymphatic system
Systemic Effects: Positive Affects on Bodily Systems
Red light therapy affects the body in multiple ways, including bodily systems:
Fascia is the thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds virtually every organ, muscle, nerve fiber, blood vessel, and bone in place. While it performs as an internal structure for your body, the fascia also contains nerves, making it almost as sensitive as skin.
The fascia may look like a layer of tissue; however, it’s made up of interwoven layers of collagen and elastin fibers. The fascia is overlooked, yet over recent years, it has been the key to understanding how changes in one area of our body affect others. Red light therapy works to improve communication within the fascia network.
The gut-brain axis connects the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Recent research discovered the importance of gut microbiota concerning these interactions.
Red light therapy can positively influence mood and neuropsychological issues by the following:
Reducing gut spasms and bowel inflammation.
Increasing neurotransmitters, activating the brain’s immune system, thus increasing blood flow and eliminating toxins.
Reduce blood pressure and increase circulation to eliminate brain fog and anxiety.
Changes the vagus nerve, which connects the gut and brain. It plays a role in stress and social communication.
Changes of the micro-biome.
Red and near-infrared light penetrate through the skin into the cells, which results in low-dose metabolic stress that strengthens the cells’ anti-inflammatory and natural defense systems. In turn, the body becomes resilient to infections.
Safe and low exposure to red light therapy improves the body’s response to external viruses and bacteria. Red light therapy can influence the immune response in the following ways:
Enhances proliferation, maturation, and motility of fibroblasts.
Activates macrophages to behave as phagocytes.
Increases production of fibroblast growth.
Proliferation and activation of lymphocytes.
Release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and mast cell degranulation.
Activation of mast cells results in reduced inflammation.
Red light therapy is scientifically proven to increase the micro-circulation of blood and support the circulatory system as a whole by stimulating the development of new capillaries which carry oxygen throughout the body.
Proper oxygen supply and flow are essential for the proliferation of cells, protein synthesis, tissue restoration, inflammatory response, and angiogenesis. In addition, circulation is also responsible for waste elimination, specifically degenerated cells.
The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord, neurons, and neural support cells, which is your body’s command center. It controls your movements, automatic responses, and other body systems such as digestion and breathing.
Red light therapy affects the nervous system in the following ways:
Releases growth factors.
Increases the vascular network and collagen.
Facilitates neural regeneration.
Regenerates the nerve lesions and damaged nerves at a faster rate.
Improves the electrophysiological function.
Myelination of fibers.
For all forms of nerve damage, red light therapy offers non-pharmaceutical treatment options.
Red light therapy shows impressive results regarding stem cell growth, maximizing the potential of stem cell implantation for various medical needs. Therefore, red light therapy may show positive results after surgery to stimulate stem cells which repair tissues and organs.
In studies, red light therapy has proven to stimulate mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow, enhancing their ability to reach the brain. This research shows the possibilities of using red light therapy to heal degenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
The Origins of Modern Red Light Therapy
It’s clear red light therapy provides multilevel treatment to the body, becoming a popular natural and holistic option for both professionals and consumers, but where did it come from?
Light therapy technology isn’t new; it’s been around for decades as NASA experimented with red light therapy during the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past 10-20 years, red light therapy reached a breakthrough in LED lighting technology, allowing the production of safe and affordable clinical and at-home devices.
We mentioned red light therapy being a holistic treatment option, but what does that mean. Holistic medicine is a full-body approach to healthcare. By focusing on the body, mind, and soul, the body receives the full support and care it needs to function optimally.
Principles of Holistic Medicine
Holistic medicine is based on the following principles:
Optimal health is the combination of emotional, mental, spiritual, social and physical wellness.
The focus is to prevent first, and treat second.
The disease or illness is not caused by a single area, rather the whole body.
The purpose of treatment is to identify the underlying cause of the disease, rather than treating only the symptoms.
6 Main Benefits from Red Light Therapy
While there are endless benefits the body receives from red light therapy, here are the six main benefits.
Relieves Pain And Discomfort
Photobiomodulation, in other words, red light therapy, has proven effective against carpal tunnel syndrome, mucositis, neck pain, menstrual cramps, temporomandibular joint pain, and neuropathic pain from amputation. It also significantly reduces the pain of hypersensitivity while improving sensorimotor function.
These improvements come after anti-inflammatory cells populate the injured area, providing long-lasting pain relief. In addition, it’s also been shown to provide effective relief by affecting the following:
Represses cyclooxygenase and prostaglandins.
Activating peripheral opioid receptors.
Increasing endorphins serotonin release.
Stimulates the metabolism.
Changes nerve transmission.
Red light therapy has proven to be highly effective in rapidly treating wounds from burns, scars, bedsores, ulcers, surgery incisions, and diabetic neuropathy.
NASA strongly supports this claim as this technology was used in treating wounds. Red and near-infrared light proves effective in all four phases of the wound-healing process:
These processes are regulated by various factors connected via nitric oxide (NO) signaling release, adjusted by light energy.
An issue the body encounters when trying to heal a wound is low oxygen flow, and red light increases the flow of oxygen, speeding up the natural healing process. By reducing inflammation and increasing oxygenation of the wounded area, blood vessels can form, rapidly repairing the area, lessening pain and scarring.
By reducing pain, red light therapy eliminates the reliant on pharmaceutical painkillers during the healing process.
The human body receives energy on the cellular level, maintaining communication between organs and ensuring disease resistance.
A strong immune system works to protect the body from harmful bacteria and viruses at all times. With red light therapy, the body receives a boost of support as it releases nitric oxide and melatonin, two components involved in DNA repair and antimicrobial.
This process is called hormesis. Red and near-infrared wavelengths penetrate through the skin into the cells, causing mild metabolic stress, which stimulates cells to activate their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant response.
With the support of red light therapy, the body is better prepared to fight infections. Numerous studies have proven red light therapy to have the following effects on the immune system:
Improves melatonin production
Increases NO levels
Improves antioxidant production
Improves thyroid function
Stimulates T cells pre-operatively
Increases flow of neurotransmitters
Boosts collagen and elastin production
Encourages lymph node activity
Enables the transportation of immune cells
Stimulates optimal function of cells and organelles
Inflammation in the body can be acute and topical (short-term, resulting from sprains, infections, and accidents) or chronic and general (long-term, caused by ongoing conditions).
Acute inflammation is a healthy bodily response; however, chronic and general inflammation can negatively impact long-term health.
As of today, the current treatment for inflammation is NSAID or steroid drugs, both having a detrimental effect on the healing process and long-term health. Red light therapy stimulates the body to activate its natural healing mechanism, reducing the health risks of long-term drug use.
Red light therapy decreases the number of inflammatory cells, increases fibroblast proliferation (cells that synthesize collagen and other matrix macromolecules), stimulates angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels), and activates the body’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant response.
The following conditions are connected with chronic and acute inflammation, all proving promising results with red light therapy treatment:
Neuron inflammatory disorders such as Alzheimer’s
Irritable bowel syndrome and colitis
Red light therapy is extremely popular in competitive sports and performance. It offers natural and non-pharmaceutical treatment, which applies to many areas of the body.
Aside from the overwhelming benefits on overall health, red light therapy encourages muscles growth and repair by stimulating the production of ATP, which aids in faster recovery and better performance.
Red light therapy used before training prepares and strengthens the body while aiding muscle recovery after training.
Here are the scientifically documented effects of red light therapy:
Reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
Enhanced endurance and performance
Increasing sleep quality
Improving sexual function and libido (including Testosterone)
Aiding weight loss
Boosting cognitive function
Reversing skin aging
Reduces symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depressions, impacting 5% of Americans, specifically during the winter when there’s less natural sunlight. SAD is also known as seasonal depression or winter blues.
Many people treat SAD symptoms via bright white light treatment, mimicking the sun’s light daily. However, researchers recommend natural light treatment, like red light therapy, to help with light deficiency. Over recent years, physicians recommend red light therapy alongside psychotherapy and medication.
Who Can Use Red Light Therapy?
While many people are using red light therapy devices for at-home treatment, red light therapy systems are found in many clinical and professional settings:
Skincare Professionals: Red light therapy is a popular skincare treatment among Hollywood celebrities, including Kourtney Kardashian, Julia Roberts, and Emma Stone. Leading skincare professionals like dermatologists and aestheticians use red light therapy to help promote collagen production, reduce wrinkles, and treat skin conditions.
Health Practitioners: Health practitioners from all specialties are incorporating red light therapy into their practice. Dentists use it to reduce inflammation, physicians for mental health conditions, and oncologists for cancer side effects.
Natural Health Experts: Leading voices in the health and wellness industry such as Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Ben Greenfield, and Dave Asprey strongly support the use of red light therapy. Paleo and Keto health experts like Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Luke Story, and Dr. Anthony Gustin also support red light therapy.
Sports Medicine Pros: The National Sports Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) adopted red light therapy to treat sports injuries. Top trainers and doctors, including Dr. Troy Van Biezen and Dr. Ara Suppiah, use red light therapy to heal their athletes.
Elite Pro Athletes: Professional athletes worldwide, including NFL stars like Patrick Peterson, UFC champion Anthony Pettis, and gold medal gymnast Sanne Weavers use red light therapy to enhance performance and quicken recovery.
Fitness & Training: World-renown fitness trainers, including Lacey Stone and Jorge Cruise, use red light therapy to enhance athletic performance and muscle recovery.
Supportive Cancer Care: The Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC) recommends the treatment of red light therapy for oral mucositis (OM), a common symptom of cancer treatment.
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Hofling DB, Chavantes MC, et al. Assessment of the effects of low-level laser therapy on the thyroid vascularization of patients with autoimmune hypothyroidism by color Doppler ultrasound. ISRN Endocrinology. 2012.
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Preece D., Chow KW, Gomez-Godinez V., Gustafson K., et al. Red light improves spermatozoa motility and does not induce oxidative DNA damage. Scientific Reports. 2017 Apr.
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A circadian rhythm is a natural bodily process that happens roughly every 24-hours. It’s a cycle, like sleeping & waking, or eating & digesting, that completes & restarts daily. Our circadian rhythms are tied to the earth’s rotation and light/dark cycle, but they are also encoded in our genes.
We are naturally diurnal animals, meaning we’re awake during the day and asleep when dark. It’s how we evolved, like how mice are designed to be nocturnal mammals that sleep during the day and forage at night.
Another example of an internal process operating on a circadian rhythm is the human digestive system. Our digestive system cannot create and burn fat simultaneously, so our cells alternate according to a circadian rhythm. When we’re awake and actively taking in calories, our digestive system breaks down food and creates stored fat. When we sleep, our stored fat keeps our bodies fueled.
Going against your natural rhythms and not establishing routines can have systemic effects, like sleep disturbances and metabolic slowdowns. Poor sleep can affect hormone production as well as your ability to recover from injury and overcome inflammation.
Dr. Satchin Panda of the Salt Institute is the author of the book The Circadian Code, which discusses circadian biology in much greater detail. Dr. Panda writes about three “core rhythms” that our body aligns with.
Circadian Rhythm & Sleep
Without artificial lighting and screens, we will typically sync with the planet’s day/night cycle: rising with the sun and sleeping when it’s dark. We’ve come a long way from those origins, but our bodies are still designed to work with an abundance of light during the day and restful sleep when it’s dark at night. If you sleep from 5 am to 2 pm every day, you may get enough sleep, but the quality of your sleep will likely not be as good.
Our bodies work best when we’re getting restful sleep every day. But even if you’re getting 7–8 hours, you may not be aligned with your body’s optimal sleep cycle.
Circadian Rhythm & Eating
According to Dr. Satchin Panda, our body has an 8 to 10-hour window for optimal food intake that begins when we take our first bite in the morning. Digestion of even a small bite of food takes hours, and efficiency slows dramatically once we’re outside that window. There’s a set window of time because our internal organs follow circadian rhythms to do their jobs, like processing food and liquids.
The stomach, liver, pancreas, and other key internal organs work best when our eating aligns with our circadian rhythm. Following a routine or schedule with your eating that allows your body to operate along the same patterns is more efficient for your digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall metabolism. Limiting your food intake to a specific window of time is also ideal.
Circadian Rhythm & Recovery
Our bodies are programmed to shift into a night mode after the sun goes down. Heart rate and breathing slow, body temperature lower, and we usually go to sleep. When you’re exercising after dark, your body has to work hard to make and use all that energy and then start the recovery process late in the day. This can clash with your sleep cycle and the circadian rhythm of digestion & eating, making your recovery and fat burning less efficient.
It might seem obvious, but our bodies are made to be active while we’re awake. Physical activity during the day, in line with our sleep and digestion cycles, is a key part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Exercise has too many health benefits to list, but it’s most beneficial when you get your main activity done during the day, not late at night.
Light & Circadian Rhythms
Light intake is one of the most important factors in sleep and circadian rhythm. The brain interprets light as a sign of when to be asleep and awake. Your circadian rhythm is designed around the sun, but the bright lights and screens of modern life can knock the body’s natural signals and rhythms out of whack. If you stare at a bright screen at midnight, your body may be tired, but your brain is getting the message that it’s time to be awake. Too much bright, artificial light after dark can make it much more difficult to sleep and establish a healthy wake/rise schedule.
Two hormones that regulate the sleep cycle are directly affected by light. Cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by your adrenal glands, helps wake us up and keep us going. Cortisol levels tend to be highest in the mornings and lowest when we’re in our deepest sleep, typically around 3–4 am. Bright artificial light can stimulate cortisol levels that keep you awake, as documented in clinical studies.
The hormone melatonin is a counterpart to cortisol. Produced by the pineal gland, melatonin helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Your body usually starts producing melatonin in the early evening, when you’re starting to wind down and get closer to bedtime. Bright light, especially bright blue light from phones and computers, has disrupted melatonin production.