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Light and Health

John Miller

Light And Health

The human body is profoundly influenced by patterns of light and darkness and the changing of seasons. Our metabolic processes change in the presence or absence of light just as the all natural world does.

The organ that responds to these changes is known as the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a tiny endocrine gland found in the brain and consists of masses of neuroglia and secretory cells called pinealocytes, but neuroglia and pinealocytes are not important for this discussion. What's important about the pineal gland is that it produces and secretes the hormone melatonin, which plays a key role in governing the body's circadian rhythms (your 24hr biological clock).

An interesting thing about Melatonin, is that its release from the pineal gland is influenced by the amount of light striking the retina of the eye. During the day, light stimulates the release of norepinephrine, which in turn inhibits the secretion of melatonin and results in a feeling of wakefulness. During the night in the absence of light, norepinepherine production slows, which allows melatonin to be secreted and results in a feeling of sleepiness. Melatonin levels increase dramatically during sleep and slowly fall as day approaches.

Unfortunately, our modern world contains countless sources of artificial light bombarding us day and night and this can have a negative effect on the body's natural circadian rhythm and lead to sleeping disorders and other health problems.

Melatonin doesn't just help put you to sleep. It has a well-understood role in immune system function, is a powerful antioxidant, and may be linked to a number of psychiatric and neurological disorders. Melatonin also influences the onset of puberty and sexual maturation and high levels of melatonin are required by the hypothalamus to maintain fertility in women and men, and it is required by the ovaries to maintain fertility in women.

How can you be sure that your melatonin production cycles are optimized?

Sleeping in an absolute darkness preserves melatonin production cycles but it must be absolute darkness.

Test for absolute darkness:

1) Once it is dark outside, turn out the lights in the room where you sleep and draw any curtains or blinds.

2) Wait ten minutes and then place your hand in front of your face .

3) If you cannot see your hand, then the room is absolutely dark. If you can still see your hand, check for easily-missed sources of light: digital display clocks, light filtering through Venetian blinds, thin curtains, nightlights in hallways, etc. Enough light to see your hand in front of your face is enough light to depress your melatonin production cycles.

For a more comprehensive look at how light affects our bodies I suggest reading Lights Out by T.S. Wiley.

Other Suggested Readings

1. Sugar Blues by W. Duffy
2. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus
3. The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions Today
4. The Diet Cure by Julia Ross
5. Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America's #1 Drug by Stephan Cherniske
6. Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby
7. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
8. Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Elaine Gottschall
9. Eat Right for Your Blood Type by Peter D’Adamo
10. Solved: The Riddle of Illness by Stephen Langer and James Scheer
11. Overcoming Thyroid Disorders 2nd ed. by M.D. David Brownstein
12. Why Is My Doctor So Dumb? by William Ferril M.D.

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