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This is the role light plays in our health

Light is indispensable for life on earth - humans are no exception. How important it is for us, however, is often underestimated. As we know today, light has just as great an influence on our body and our health as nutrition, sleep or exercise. This article explains the basics you need to know about light to be able to use it specifically for yourself.

Red light for pain and inflammation

This is light

First of all, a few facts: Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation emitted by a light source (e.g. sun, light bulb, etc.) in the form of waves. The human eye can only perceive a small part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The light spectrum visible to us ranges from 380 to 780 nm and includes all the colors of the rainbow. On the one hand, ultraviolet radiation and, on the other hand, infrared radiation border on the light that we can perceive. For our purpose, the visible blue light (420-490 nm), the visible red light (650-780 nm) and the near-infrared light (from 780 nm), which is not visible to us, are of particular interest.

EM Spectrum | Red Light

Important at this point: Even if we cannot see certain wavelengths with our eyes, they still have an influence on our body.

Artificial vs. natural light

Natural light is emitted by fire or the sun, for example. Light from fire sources contains a high proportion of red light. The sun has a different composition of the various light wavelengths depending on the time of day. This is due to the fact that it hits the earth from different angles during the course of the day. While in the morning and evening it is mainly the long-wave red wavelengths that reach the earth, in the midday sun it has a high blue light spectrum. In the course of evolution, the human body has become accustomed to this sequence of events and has linked it to a number of endogenous processes.

Red light supports regeneration and performance

Now, however, with the passage of time, man has increasingly shielded himself from natural light: Most of our lives nowadays take place indoors; in fact, according to a study on the so-called "Generation Indoor," about 90% of our daily lives are spent indoors. Moreover, since windows only allow a portion of natural light to pass through, the signals that our bodies receive from natural light in modern everyday life are rather small. This is not least due to the fact that we artificially illuminate our homes almost around the clock.

Artificial light, such as that from LEDs, smartphones or computers, contains - like natural light - a mix of different light wavelengths. However, the spectral composition of most sources of artificially generated light is different from that of natural light. Artificial light often has a high blue light content. Regardless of whether a lamp is dimmable or not, this composition of artificial light also does not change over the course of the day.

So the light signals that our body predominantly receives nowadays no longer have much in common with the natural sequence of light spectra as our body knows them from the sun. Unfortunately, they completely mislead our body in the attempt to derive the time of day from the ambient light. A combination of little sunlight and a lot of artificial light - especially after sunset - can therefore throw our natural biorhythms out of balance. This, in turn, can lead to a number of undesirable symptoms, such as sleep disorders, stress, chronic fatigue, or mood lows.

Use light in a targeted manner

Just as a lack of light or the wrong light at the wrong time can have negative effects on us, the supply of certain light wavelengths can also have positive effects on our body. This has now been proven by a wide variety of studies on red light or near-infrared light therapy (also called low level light therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM)).

Red light or near infrared (NIR) has, among other things, a positive influence on our cellular energy production and thus also on our cell renewal. Since our entire body consists of cells, the areas that can be influenced by red light are also very broadly positioned.

We have therefore divided the proven effects of red light/NIR into four groups for the sake of simplicity and dedicated a separate article to each. Just click on one of the four groups to learn how it is affected by red light/NIR and how you can specifically use this for yourself: Skin & Hair, Performance & Regeneration, Pain & Inflammation, Sleep & Wake Rhythms.

Cover photo: @beaezor via Twenty20

References:

  • WHITTEN, Ari (2018): The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy. Archangel Ink.
  • WUNSCH, Alexander (2019): The power of light. Why we need light and bad light makes us sick. 1st edition. riva: Munich.
  • WUNSCH, Alexander; MATUSCHKA, Karsten (2014): A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase. In: Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. Volume 32, Number 2, Heidelberg: Mary Ann Liebert. 93-100.
  • YouGov survey (2018) for Velux Group on indoor behavior of 16,000 homeowners in Northern Europe and North America (including Germany).

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