Ancient medical books are filled with explanations of the importance of getting enough light. For example, the ancient Ayurvedic physician Chakra who lived in the sixth century B.C., recommended sunlight to treat a variety of diseases. For thousands of years people the world over have revered the sun as a great healer; some ancient cultures even worshiped the sun.
In 1980, A.J. Lewy and coworkers published an article in Science that ushered in the modern era of phototherapy. Lewy suggested that secretion of the hormone melatonin could be suppressed by exposing subjects to bright artificial light but not to light of ordinary indoor intensity. As we shall see later, melatonin is nicknamed "the chemical expression of darkness" as it is secreted at night and is believed to tell the body that it is time to sleep. It has been shown that melatonin in animals is secreted at night by the pineal gland under the influence of a circadian rhythm. Light rays impinging on the retina are converted into nerve impulses, which influence the secretion of melatonin by connections between the retina and the hypothalamus. This demonstration that one physiologic effect of light in humans, transmitted presumably via the hypothalamus, has a threshold intensity far higher than that required for vision, suggested that there might be other effects of light on the brain that require high-intensity light.
There is no doubt that the sun plays a very important role in our daily lives. During winter, the well-to-do vacations in Caribbean. The summer months are synonymous with spending time in the beach, in spite of all the warning of the potential to get skin cancer. We feel better after spending time in the sun. Today, most of the doctors and medical researchers view the sun more as a healer than a hazard.
We know that lack of sunlight can result in nutritional deficiencies. Without sunlight vitamin D cannot be metabolized in the human body, which can result in rickets. Most enzymes, hormones and vitamins need light for proper functioning. Studies have shown that different lights affect different enzymatic reactions for healing purposes. For example, one of the first tests pediatricians do to a new-born baby is to check for jaundice. If found positive, they are placed under a blue light to cure the disease. So, most of us are given light therapy, without us being aware of it.
Professor Mester of Budapest University conducted experiments to determine the function of light in the cells of animals and humans. He found that the monochromatic light promotes the DNA to use the lipoprotein in the area enabling the cell to function better as well as to produce collagen and elastin.
In a study reported in the American Geriatrics Society, researchers wanted to find out "the effects of low-power light therapy on pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee." They have divided the patients into three groups. One group was treated with red light, one was treated with infrared light and the third group got no light therapy. Prior to the light therapy, the pain and disability was statistically similar among the three control groups. They found that pain reduction in the red and infrared groups after the treatment was more than 50%. Significant functional improvement was observed in the red and infrared-treated groups, but not in the placebo group. The experiment showed that low-power light therapy is effective in relieving pain and disability in degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee.
In fact, researchers have determined several benefits from regular, moderate exposure to sunlight-or to sun-like artificial lights. Such exposure can help relieve winter blues and treat other forms of depression; minimize jet lag; shorten abnormally long menstrual cycles and treat psoriasis, eating disorders and some forms of insomnia. It can possibly even help relieve some symptoms of lupus-a serious disease involving the immune system
How Does Light Affect The Human Functions?
Human beings are the product of habits and heritage. Before the advent of alarm clocks, many farmers woke up hearing the rooster crowing, announcing the arrival of morning. They milked their cows, worked in the farm and went into bed at night. There was no electricity. So, daylight announced the initiation and termination of many activities.
Modern life style differs significantly from these early days. Most of us wake up in the morning, not by hearing a rooster crow or by feeling the golden rays of sunlight slowly drifting into our rooms; we wake up by the alarm clock or by the clock radio. Many of us have tough time getting up at the first time; so we set the "snooze" button to give us a little more of precious time to sleep. The windows have heavy drapes, so most of us do not see the sunlight except when we peek outside. In the evening, many of us stay awake to watch the late night shows. (Now we have light night shows and late night shows to keep us company till the wee hours of the night.)
The problem is that our system needs time to sleep. Studies on animals have shown that they have definite patterns they follow every day depending on the season. In autumn, most of the plants and animals get ready to go into "hibernation" for the winter period. Many birds migrate to south for the winter. During this period, they do not eat much (There is not much food to be found.) But, come spring, nature become very lively. The birds return from the south. The trees start the new growth.
Many animals are found to time the events in their lives depending on the season, so that the functions can be accomplished at the most effective way. For example, lambs are born only in the spring when there is plentiful of food for the mother to nurse the newborn. Most of the animal species coordinate the mating time so that the birth occurs in the season when there is plenty of food available. In the tropical rainforests, birds wait till the dry season to breed. In Arctic, the breeding is timed to coincide with the melting of snow and ice.
The question is how do animals know how to predict the seasons in advance? Is it the temperature fluctuations? It cannot be, because, sometimes we have the "so called Indian Summer" in fall; but the birds do fine. It turns out that the most important factor is the day light; or more specifically the day/night cycle. Animals and plants sense the shortening of the days in the fall and perceive the arrival of winter. In spring, the lengthening of the day signifies the arrival of spring and summer. Most of the expert horticulturists know about this. They manipulate the "day light hours" (or photoperiod) to coax the poinsettia to bloom in time for the Christmas season, daylilies to bloom for the Easter (although Easter can be in March or April), etc.
It turns out that human beings are also influenced by the light. Light determines our sleep/wake cycle. In most animals and humans, the desire to sleep is brought on by secretion of a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is produced in a tiny gland known as the pineal gland. In the evening the pineal gland reacts to the diminishing levels of daylight and starts to produce melatonin, which is then released into the blood and flows through the body making us drowsy. Its secretion peaks in the middle of the night during our heaviest hours of sleep. In the morning, bright light shining through the eye reaches the pineal gland which reacts by switching off the production of melatonin, thus removing the desire to sleep.
The pineal gland is linked up to the rest of the hormonal system. Consequently melatonin production also influences the functioning of other parts of the body. During darkness and sleep, melatonin modifies the secretion of hormones from organs such as the pituitary, the master gland of the hormonal system. The pituitary in turn regulates the secretion of hormones controlling growth, milk production, egg and sperm production. It also regulates the action of the thyroid gland, which is concerned with metabolism, and the adrenal glands, which control excretion of the body"s waste. It is obvious then that fluctuations in light and darkness according to the seasons of the year will influence rhythms of growth, reproduction and activity in animals and indeed humans.
Statistics show that despite living and working in "closed structures", our bodies still respond to the external environment and to its seasonal variability in duration and intensity. Scientist have found that growth rates in children are affected by the seasons. For example, surveys carried out in Germany, Sweden and Scotland show that height and weight increase is more predominant in the spring and early summer. In many countries the rate of conception peaks in the summer when the hours of daylight are longest. In numerous trials the seasons have been seen to influence the timing and duration of sleep, pain threshold, alertness, eating habits, mood, the onset of menstruation in women and sexual activity
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