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Invisible Health: Why We Need Light for Life and Wellbeing

Words by
April 24, 2017
Light, the essence of life itself. Without it we simply would have nothing. It’s incredible to think that something we often don’t notice simply because it is always present, though not tangible, is the most valuable resource on this planet. Light is the main source of energy for all living organisms. Plants, main sustainers of life, are crucial in this conversion process and need light for photosynthesis that enables them to make their own food and food for others. And, perhaps more importantly, photosynthesis produces oxygen too!

Healing with light
photo © Micah Hallahan
During this process, some of the sugars plants produce get stored in fruits and vegetables, so basically we eat converted and stored light. Since we cannot live without food and oxygen, the impact of photosynthesis on our daily life is crucial. Photosynthesis creates all our major sources of energy, not only for our body’s activities but also in regards to the fossil fuels we use today. They are made of ancient layers of compressed organic matter stored underground which originally got their energy from photosynthesis as well.

Since many of us have been deprived of long days all winter, and finally the days are getting longer again, let’s discuss how light can improve our health and wellbeing.

Healing with light

Light as a source of Vitamin D

It's no surprise that sunlight has many health benefits. People need direct exposure to sunlight simply because the ultraviolet rays (also called UVB) help the body produce vitamin D. Vitamin actually is not the right name because in reality it’s a hormone, but nonetheless truly essential. Its function is active in many parts of the body, taking care of a variety of important processes, from boosting our happiness and immune system, to fighting all kinds of infections and serious illnesses. But before we go out and catch those beams, preferably 15 to 30 minutes of direct exposure on a summer day and at least one hour in autumn, winter and spring times, let's take a closer look at how the sun’s rays get converted into smiles, tans, and overall health.

First off, there are two forms of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and D3. Both forms are created by the direct action of sunlight. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is produced when sunlight irradiates ergosterol, the naturally occurring pro-vitamin in plants and fungi, so D2 can be absorbed from our diet.
Healing with light
photo © Vince Lee
Vitamin D3 is produced in our skin when a substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted into vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Now, both forms must be activated, because vitamin D is useless by itself. And although there are some differences between D2 and D3, their metabolic process is kind of the same. The liver and the kidneys play a role in transforming "raw" vitamin D into an active prohormone that helps regulate calcium and phosphorus in the body. Further metabolism and actions can take place throughout our body thanks to vitamin D — from the immune system to the reproductive organs, brain, bones, breasts and heart. The production of vitamin D depends on the intensity of the sun. So when you live in a climate zone not so close to the equator and the seasons change, or because clothing, glass, clouds or sunscreen block the UVB-beams, it can be really hard to get your proper dose of D. Are there other, more convenient ways to get our proper dose of happiness every day besides spending time on a sunny part of the globe? Of course you can get your vitamin D2 and D3 as a supplement or reach for fortified products, but make sure you get yourself some good advice and information first, because a supplement is a nutrient out of its natural context. Vitamin D, like most vitamins and minerals, is also very sensitive to high temperatures like cooking and baking, so fruits and veggies are preferably eaten raw if you’re looking to boost your natural vitamin D2 intake.

Healing with light
photo © Mike Wilson


Learning from the past

From the biblical words ‘Let there be Light’ to the age of ‘Enlightenment’, light has played a big role in the development of human culture. But it actually started many years before. Nature has taught our ancestors that when light breaks the darkness, there is a new beginning, a new day. Every sunrise awakens every lifeform. Light is life.

Many ancient cultures from all over the world already understood the importance of light to heal and sustain a healthy life. The ancient Greeks had a special centre for light therapy called Heliopolis (City of the Sun). In this health centre they started to use colors of filtered sunlight. Each component of the light spectrum (color) was used for specific treatment. They also had structures made specially for sunbathing, called Solaria, to cure skin diseases and sustain health and wellbeing.

The Egyptians also studied and used color light for all kinds of treatments. In the ancient city of Heliopolis, temples were build to worship the sun gods Ra and Atum. Different temple rooms were constructed for color healing. Sunlight would shine through the open ceiling onto colored gemstones or colored walls and floors, so one room was filled with one specific color. In this way, the patient’s body would be filled with coloured light. The colour green was used for relaxation and mental balance, orange for digestion problems, red for disorders of muscles, veins, heart, and blood. And gold was used to support the nerve system, spirit, and soul.

In the late 19th and 20th century, after Sir Isaac Newton proved daylight is a mix of colors of the visible spectrum, biologists, scientists, and psychologists studied the impact of colors on the human body and so the foundation of modern light therapy we know today was laid. For example, the color purple or violet has a soothing and calming effect. It helps to relax the nervous system and mental functions.

Healing with light
photo © Clem Onojeghuo
The impact of UVB-light remains a field of research where there is much more to be learned since we are only scratching the surface of its benefits and possibilities. Also, vitamin D is still rather unexplored due to its complex and varying actions and functions across the different types, a lot of questions still remain unanswered. Innovative use of UVB-light can result in a totally different approach to future design and potential medicinal and therapeutic uses. It can provide numerous solutions and play an important role regarding overall health, healing and wellbeing in the future.

We should start to see nature as our biggest source of inspiration again, and let her wisdom and intelligence lead the way. Because, as Janine Benyus, an American scientist and biomimicry expert, says: “When we look at what is truly sustainable, the only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the natural world.”