The magnificent Harvest Moon of last Friday hung low in the dark sky and was a reminder of a change in the seasons and the effect of light on our hormones. The following Monday, newspapers reported that men should expose their body to strong light as this increases testosterone – sex always makes the headlines!
But there is much more to light than a small increase in libido. In 1973, a book was published that changed forever my knowledge and interest in the relationship between light and wellbeing. Dr John Nash Ott published “Health and Light”. His experiments caused him to believe that only full-spectrum light from infra-red to ultra-violet could promote health.
Since Ott’s day, world-wide research has not only confirmed all he taught but has firmly established that natural daylight sets and resets our innate biological clock via the pineal gland and its hormone, melatonin. However, much in our busy lives opposes the circadian rhythm so essential to health and vitality.
Friday’s Harvest Moon contrasted the reflected light from the sun and the dark stellar space beyond, but house lights were blazing as they have done since the invention of electric lighting by Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla. In the natural scheme of things, the autumn evenings should prepare us for the darkness of winter and the need dim the lights, eat less and sleep more. But we have turned night into day. Anciently, the red glow from a fire would stimulate the pineal gland to produce melatonin, encourage relaxation and the urge to sleep, but conversely, blue light from computer screens, TV’s and mobile phones opposes melatonin, raises cortisol to further stimulate a weary brain.
Knowing this, there is much we can do to allow light to be our natural healer. By all means, allow the early morning light full access to the retina in order to set our biological clock. Then, at the other end of the day we can reset the clock by dimming the lights, and if we use a computer in the evening the free installation of the software f.lux will automatically and progressively take out the blue/green tints from the screen. Low-energy lamps and LED lighting are a disrupting source of blue light whilst filament lamps are a source of relaxing red light, especially when dimmed.
An excellent herbal supplement, Ashwaghandha will prepare us for sleep, its botanical name gives a clue: Withania somnifera.
Written by B V Lamb, Medical Herbalist