Origins of Light Therapy
For centuries different cultures and civilizations have realized the healing and therapeutic power of light and our ultimate source of light and life on this planet, the sun. In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome specially designed rooms were created for helio-therapy (sun-therapy) and many of their buildings strongly emphasized allowing as much natural light as possible in. Jump ahead to 1903 and the first widely recognized practitioner of light therapy, Niels Ryberg Finsen, was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his work in curing patients with conditions such as Lupus through exposure to sunlight. While the benefits of sunlight have long been appreciated, it is only over the past few decades that we are beginning to understand why sunlight is so special and important for us to expose ourselves to.
Unfortunately, light therapy and alternative medicine in general fell out of favor with the general public and the American government in the 1950’s, due mainly to the rise of widespread pharmaceutical medications and a call for more rigorously tested evidence based treatments. While the push for more science based medicine has obviously lead to many benefits, the discrediting of light therapy and other alternative methods which were previously shown to bring about positive change in a number of areas is truly a travesty. Ironically, a few years before turning against light therapy and its practitioners, an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association published an ad saying, “Light is to health and happiness as darkness is to disease and despair”. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that light therapy began to be accepted as a widespread practice once again. Sadly, for now light therapy in America is almost exclusively viewed as an anti-aging and cosmetic therapy and is not fully appreciated for its myriad of other health and wellness benefits it has to offer.
Sunlight: The Gold Standard of Light
The reason sunlight is the gold standard of light is because it contains every aspect of the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum as well as Ultraviolet and Infrared radiation. Although we are accustomed to thinking of radiation as a negative or dangerous thing, there is a wide range of radiation frequencies with many of them being harmless or even beneficial. As you can see in the graph below, the longer wavelengths of radio waves, microwaves, and sunlight are things that we expose ourselves to on a daily basis and it is only the more rapid short wavelengths of x-rays and gamma rays that are severely damaging.
Within this broad range of radiation visible light only takes up a small portion of the spectrum. Contained in visible light are the various colors which can be seen during a rainbow. The reason sunlight appears slightly yellow or white is due to the combination of these various wavelengths of light. It is only when we separate sunlight into its various wavelengths either through a prism or water can we see the various colors contained in sunlight – this is what creates our multi-colored rainbows after it rains. Below you can see a graph showing the range of wavelengths and colors that the sun emits.
While the sun peaks in the blue portion, it has a relatively even distribution of all the colors. On the other hand, many artificially made lights are deficient in certain parts of the spectrum which can cause various issues such as sleep disturbances. A growing health concern called Blue Light Hazard is the potential for artificially made lights which emit high amounts of blue light to damage retinas and cause sleep issues. In a world where so many people (and especially children) are often glued to a digital screen for hours a day this issue is being taken rather seriously with many cell phones and other devices adding an optional blue light filter to limit the amount of blue light their device emits. While too much artificial light can be damaging, there are many positive ways in which technology has learned to harness the healing powers of light and color.
Chromo-therapy: Healing with Color
One of the most important things to realize about light is the importance of color. Far from being purely cosmetic, each color correlates to specific wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum making each color unique in the energy it emits and how it interacts with human physiology. Red light is especially beneficial for accelerating the reproduction of our skin and cells due to its closeness to infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. Another example of a specific color being used for the unique properties of its wavelength is blue light to treat jaundice in newborns. Jaundice occurs when there is an excess of bilirubin in the blood – blue light causes photo-oxidation which increases the oxygenation in the new-born’s blood and makes it easier for their liver to break down the bilirubin. Below is a picture of a newborn being exposed to blue light through a “Bili-blanket”.
Light Affects Our Whole Body
While light is primarily thought of as visual phenomena, light interacts with many other parts of our body. For example, our circadian rhythm which controls our sleep patterns is heavily influenced by the presence or absence of light. As part of our daily sleep patterns, our circadian rhythm also has a large effect on the secretion of hormones and other neurotransmitters meaning that an imbalance of sunlight can cause issues in these areas. This is one major reason why people with very low exposure to sunlight either through the location they live in or a sedentary indoors lifestyle often develop SAD (Seasonal Affective Depression).
Another example of the non-visual ways in which our body interacts with light and one of the most proven and commonly used light therapy treatments is with photo-biomodulation. Photo-biomodulation is essentially the ability for light to penetrate into our skin and stimulate our cells to cause an increase in energy production. This process allows us to harness the power of light in order to speed up the body’s natural regenerative process in healing itself from minor and major wounds. Look at the picture below to see the amazing results that come from light therapy that takes advantage of this fascinating biological process.
Light Therapy through Bioptron