Light Therapy – A Personal Exploration

Posted: March 30, 2018 in Light and Health
Tags: ,

Opening Remarks

Modern human existence, as we all know, is primarily carried out indoors. Exposure to natural light is also highly seasonal, even when we avail ourselves of the opportunity to include it in our regular activities. At most, for many in the northern continents, natural light varies from being too feeble to be of value, great enough to be of value, but with outdoor temperatures too cold or hot to tolerate with regularity necessary for good health, or so highly variable throughout the year, that reliance on it as a natural part of our existence is impossible. Further, as we all age, subtle changes take place over time that are not always noticeable at their early stages, but become more of an issue as the years pass. As a result the light we are exposed to indoors, is the bulk of our photonic existence.

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In perspective, some my point to the advent of electric light as being the culprit here, that over the last 125 years has wrought havoc on human existence under light. This is a truly inane argument, that completely fails to recognize that the natural light cycles we live under, beyond the buildings we occupy has not changed. The low light, short day duration of 2018 is essentially the same as it was in 1718, 1518, and the year 18. We’ve also lived inside enclosed space for thousands of years, from caves to Roman Architecture using Oculus, to spaces illuminated by the feeble light of early wax and oil lamps. People have worked and lived inside buildings with limited illuminance (natural or otherwise), for thousands of years, over the surface of the entire planet, including many locations that have virtually no natural light for half of the year. The idea that we, as living beings, are not equipped to functional healthfully under low artificial illuminance, between sporadic exposures to available natural light, is patently absurd.

In fact, human’s today are exposed to a greater flow of light energy, more consistently delivered, over any desirable number of hours each day, than ever in the history of humanity. The light we are exposed to today is also far closer to natural light than has ever existed before. Incandescent lamps, candle flame and whale oil lamps are primarily infrared sources that we can see a small portion as “light”. Gas lamps were a combination of IR (raw flame emission) combined with some yellow/green (emitted by the phosphor from mantels), that would today be considered disgusting in color and brightness. Today’s array of florescent and LED sources, while certainly imperfect, offer up more light in the visible spectrum, and far more light in the non-visual response spectra than prior artificial sources. So, the idea that current illumination is somehow exposing us all to new dangers is irrational. There is always room for improvement, but, compared to just 75 years ago, our artificially lighted spaces, combined with what daylight we can avail ourselves of, when available and practical, is superior.

Caveats Galore

So, given that background, what I have discovered in researching light we live under, its spectral content, and timing of exposure – is that there are certain qualities of light we can now consider as therapeutic augmentations to our regular existence.

Before I describe my personal approach, let me acknowledge that I am fully aware there is a movement that proposes that we need to dope our regular light exposure with any number of spectral components to make it more healthful and to keep it from killing us. Some propose we need to eliminating blue light to protect us from real and imagined harmful effects. Others propose, that amping up blue light to steer our circadian cycles is a great idea. There is an emerging contingent proposing red light is missing from our daily light meal. Others propose that for the health of the planet and its non-human occupants, that we must now return to the long since abandoned Low Pressure Sodium era with amber LED outdoor lighting. There are blue blocking glasses and glass coating for eyewear, and programs for displays to turn blue content down as the day passes. I cannot possibly address the plethora of opinions, products, marketing pitches, and pseudo sciences now pervasive in lighting.  It’s becoming more and more difficult to sort it all out.

What I will do here is describe what I have found for myself, and have experienced directly. Based on researching the potential for improving my own lighting diet, from as many sources as I have been able to digest, what follows is a description of what I am finding works and the impact it has made.

Light Therapy

For purposes of this exploration, I am lumping any activity that includes purposefully employing accessory lighting into my daily life, for a desired effect under the heading of “Light Therapy”.

High Lux Exposure

(10,000lux) for 45-60 minutes to first thing every morning within 2 hours of waking. Based on numerous white papers, studies, and results of a body or research, ranging from addressing Seasonal Affect Disorder to Circadian Entertainment, I discovered strong support for this therapeutic treatment. It has been used in cancer treatment to assist chemo therapy patients with establishing a circadian sleep cycle lost due to their feeling ill, that precludes regular sleep cycles. It has been used with Alzheimer patients to establish strong circadian timing. For otherwise healthy seniors (my group), it has been proven to be beneficial in setting the circadian clock to create more regular sleep patterns.

I chose the Philips HF3418/60 Medical Grade Light Therapy White Light as my white light source.

Philips white therapy

Each morning, within 2 hours of waking, I expose myself to this at roughly eye level, for between 45 and 60 minutes. I usually eat breakfast, then read in front of it, or catch up on the news using a tablet or the TV.

 

White Light Results

The results of this regimen have been subtle but notable and positive. I have suffered from insomnia for a very long time, that has only worsened as I age. This has left me feeling tired in the morning, especially when waking very early with no hope of sleeping again. It was not unusual for me to wake up at 5:30, after only sleeping a few hours – eating breakfast, then take a nap before getting ready for the day. After a few weeks of this routine, I am now regularly falling asleep within 30 minutes of getting to bed, and I am staying asleep longer. When I do wake at the wee hours, I am able to fall back asleep – most of the time.

I no longer feel dragging and tired in the morning. The desire to take that morning nap after breakfast has disappeared. My morning general energy level has improved so much that I’ve moved my exercise routine to the morning, which amplifies energy reserves heading into the day.  I also find my mood far more level and predictable, with far fewer instances of anxiousness, anger or frustration. While I was skeptical about the effect this would have on seasonal affect, I found this winter that the normal feeling of depression from short day cycles had evaporated.

An interesting read from the Mayo Clinic for those interested. Another interesting summary of light therapies (including red light below) is here.

Red Light Application

In addition to the white light, hi-lux exposure, I have been working on uses of red light in 670nm wavelength. There are a great many potential applications for this, including treating wounds and skin conditions, reducing age spot pigmentation, thyroid function, reduction in wrinkles, resolving UTI issues for women, and increasing T levels for men. Some are well documented and well studied, others are in their nascent state.  For this reason, I am at the experimental stage now, testing several approaches at once.

So far, what I am finding is that there are definitely applications where red light works very well. The applications are more targeted, and the results range from very slow progress over time, to immediate response. For example, on swollen soft tissue problems, red light exposure can eliminate the need for taking an analgesic, producing a result that is felt with as little as 35 J/cm². Deeper tissue applications are also responsive, with greater total exposures of 90 J/cm². The use of red light as a daily therapy tool for more complex physiological applications requires 70 J/cm² to 100 J/cm² depending on application, and produce benefits over a longer period of time ranging from days to months. Reducing skin pigmentation issues requires a very long time, measured in months, with modest exposures of 35 to 60 J/cm² to realize results, but produce results superior to any creams or topical ointments.

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This is the first red light I purchased to begin experimenting with. It has proven to be useful and effective in far more instances than I imagined it would be.

 

What has become obvious, is that red light applications requires energy levels that are not practical with general illumination style sources or far-field lighting products. To get the energy level necessary requires locating a higher power red light source near the treatment surface, within 3″ in most applications. Further, since red light is applied to tissues or subcutaneous targets, not through the eyes which are readily exposed, red light therapy becomes a more intimate process (gotta expose the target tissue or surface surrounding an internal target to light – without obstruction). However, once the issue of exposing the intended target area to light is resolved, exposure times are short, lasting 6 to 15 minutes in most cases. For larger areas, where the flashlight format was not well suited to, I purchased a more powerful unit from the Red Light Man

red-660-shell-main-510x421

This is the second device I purchased for more power and larger surface area coverage. This too has proven exceptionally effective in several applications.

Red light at 670nm is relatively harmless. It cannot cause a burn, and is well tolerated by skin and other tissues. It does not represent a danger to eyes, other than the usual brightness issues involved (do not look into the lights). I have not considered, at this time, including of IR 830nm red light sources, as these have proven problematic. Not all tissues can tolerate heat. I prefer to avoid the risks of burns deep in skin and tissues, and find the limited reported success of these sources less compelling. If the application demands a deeper penetrating wavelength than the 670nm delivers, I chose to pass on the application at this time.

There are now tanning salons converting beds to red light therapy stations, usually operating at between 630 and 660nm, by installing red LED tubes in place of the UV tanning sources. This is being used for overall skin conditioning, which includes several physiological responses.

For those interested, below are links to other products that I, and others I am working with, have found to deliver excellent results that would otherwise require drugs. Additionally, I have included a couple of studies on the topic worth a read.

Joov panel systems for large area treatments and full body exposure.

vFit treatment system specifically for women’s intimate health, also see vSculpt.

Berkeley on red light therapy

NASA Getting into the act on red light application

Light Therapy Notes for Consideration

One thing everyone attempting light therapy must understand going in – Light is not a drug, thus there are few “instant” or remarkably quick overnight results. Adding light therapy, or changing light spectra exposure during the day, is not going to produce a “wow” moment or strong impact. Light is never going to be the equivalent of a short acting drug, and many of the benefits of light therapy will be subtle, noticeable over a period of time, not for any immediate response.  Here is the underlying reason why:

Light imparts changes to physiology that already change regularly over time, throughout the day, over weeks and months. These physiological responses are not dormant – waiting for light to cause them to “wake up”. They are already in action to some degree in everyone. Applying additional light, beyond what one experiences on a daily basis, only changes the magnitude and timing of existing responses, within the limits each individual’s physiological capacity to change and respond. For some, there will be no response at all, as their physiology is already operating at a level that is unchanged by any further external influence. Others will realize a greater response, over time. For this reason, light therapies are highly variable by individual, and effected by all other factors having an effect on that individual’s health, quality of diet, state of physical fitness, DNA, past toxic exposures, age, mental state/condition, seasonal affect, and numerous factors that are not yet fully understood.

Because of this, the results of light therapy are noticeable only after experiencing them over enough time,  to realize that changes have occurred. As noted, other than the few red light applications where nearly instant response was realized, most of the effects I have realized from light therapy took a few weeks to become fully evident, and are improving as I continue. In my own view, any time you can use a light therapy approach to avoid taking a drug or other substance to treat a condition, you win. So far, light therapy has produced no side effects. This is regularly reported to be the case, while so many drugs are essentially forms of poison that work on the principle of not killing you as quickly as they alleviate a target malady – leaving behind nasty side effects requiring additional drugs. If I can avoid that merry go round with a light therapy, I think I’ll give it a shot.

Lastly, I advise anyone interested in looking into light therapies, whether white, red, or blue (something I have not had an interest in at the moment): Avoid low cost, or low grade products.  The vast majority of the low light therapy market is junk, just like all other LED products marketed today. If you see clusters of those pesky little domed 5mm or 15mm LEDs, I’d suggest moving on to products that utilize SMD LEDs with proper optics and thermal conducting features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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