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Sunshine & Health

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Sunshine & Health
By Harry Braun

The exponential depletion of the earth's protective ozone layer is one of the most serious environmental issues. Without the ozone shield, the deadly shortwave radiation from the Sun will make the surface of the earth uninhabitable. But while most people are aware of the dangers involved in getting too much exposure to the sunlight, extensive clinical research data has documented that a lack of sunlight will also result in profoundly negative impacts on human health. Sunlight is like water; it is critical for life and health-but too much of it will result in disease and death. It is a question of balance.

Ordinary window glass reflects or absorbs the most "biologically active" ultraviolet spectra of natural outdoor sunlight, and since the 1940's, air conditioning systems have allowed architects to design buildings with windows that cannot be opened-or without windows at all. Fluorescent lamps that simulate the natural outdoor environment have been available since the 1960s, and they kill pathogenic Staphylococcus and other bacteria that are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. In spite of this reality, hospitals, schools and most office buildings continue to use "cool white" lamps that have no germicidal effects and been shown to cause serious physiological and psychological problems in humans and other mammals.

Dr. Richard Wurtman

This issue has come to the attention of a wide range of distinguished scientists, including Dr. Richard J. Wurtman, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Wurtman also lectures at the Harvard Medical School where he received his M.D. degree in 1960. In his landmark paper, "The Effects of Light on the Human Body," published in Scientific American in July 1975, Wurtman stated that only minimal sums have been expended to characterize and exploit the biological effects of light, and very little has been done to protect citizens against potentially harmful or biologically inadequate lighting environments. Both government and industry have been satisfied to allow people who buy electric lamps . . . to serve as the unwitting subjects in a long-term experiment on the effects of artificial lighting on human health."

Outdoor Daylight Cool-White Lamps

Note the spectral difference between the natural outdoor environment compared to "cool white" fluorescent lamps that have been in widespread use since the 1940s.


The news media have provided the general public with an abundance of articles that discuss the risks associated with over-exposure to sunlight, which can cause skin cancer-and even death. What has not been clarified is that exposure to sunlight is similar to exposure to water. If one gets too much water, one drowns. On the other hand, water in moderate, daily amounts is absolutely critical for human survival. So it is with exposure to the natural outdoor environment. While some dermatologists argue that any exposure to ultraviolet wavelengths is dangerous, a wide-range of critical metabolic functions, such as Vitamin D formation absolutely requires the highly energetic 290 nm ultraviolet wavelength photons. If individuals are deprived of exposure to the ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight, the calcium in the diet cannot be absorbed by the body and is excreted in the waste, forcing the bodies to leach the calcium from the teeth and bones.

Harvard Golden Hamster Study

In a study conducted by investigators at Harvard University's School of Dental Medicine, 60 golden hamsters were raised under identical conditions (in terms of diet and exercise) except the types of fluorescent lamps the animals were exposed to. Half of the hamsters were housed under full spectrum lamps that simulated the natural outdoor environment, and the other half were placed under the "cool white" lamps that are in widespread use. After 15 weeks of exposure the animals were sacrificed and examined. The animals in the cool white environments had 500 percent more tooth decay, and the caries were 10 times as large as the animals that were raised under the full spectrum lamps. Moreover, the animals raised under the cool white lamps had smaller bodies, hearts and sex organs, and the males had no sperm production. Other significant histological differences were also observed in the submandibular gland structures.

Note that the molar teeth from the hamsters that were raised under full spectrum fluorescent lamps (upper left) had normal tooth decay, whereas the molar teeth from a hamster raised under cool white lamps (right) had 500% more tooth decay, and the caries were 10 times larger than normal.

Note that the testis from a hamster raised under full spectrum lamps (upper left) were normal and had normal sperm production, whereas the testis from a hamster raised under cool white lamps (upper right) were severely malformed and had no sperm production.


Biochemical Mechanisms

The quality-as opposed to quantity (i.e. brightness) --of light is something that is rarely given serious thought by most people. As a result, it is rarely understood, even by many medical professionals, that visible light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that was a primal factor in the evolution of life itself. The electromagnetic energy that actually reaches the surface of the Earth is made up of both visible and invisible ultraviolet components of the spectrum. The common term is sunshine, but the technical term is solar global radiation (SGR), which refers to both the direct and indirect (scattered Sun and sky) sunlight that has been specifically defined in terms of its nanometer (nm) wavelength.

The biological effects of EME exposure on humans or other mammals are classified as direct or indirect, depending on whether the photochemical reaction occurs directly within the tissue (primarily the skin), or whether the photons of a specific wavelength are absorbed by specialized photoreceptor cells located in the retina of the eye. In the case of indirect absorption, the energy is transferred in neural pathways to stimulate the endocrine and nervous system. A lack of exposure to a full spectrum electromagnetic environment can result in numerous pathological conditions, including the following:

? VITAMIN D3 DEFICIENCY The human body requires UV wavelengths to manufacture Vitamin D3 and its metabolites that account for up to 90% of the absorption of dietary minerals in the intestines. Vitamin D2 that is provided in dairy products is poorly utilized by the body, and has been sharply curtailed in many European countries because its over-use can be toxic to the kidneys and other organs. Without Vitamin D3, the mineral concentration in the blood drops, causing the minerals to be leached from the skeleton and teeth. Eventually, osteomalacia and osteoporosis will result.

? INCREASED STRESS & FATIGUE Studies undertaken by Cornell University and the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences indicated that students working under full-spectrum fluorescent lamps experienced less eyestrain, headache and fatigue than students working under convention Cool White illumination.

? DECREASED SEXUALITY & INCREASED LEVELS OF DEPRESSION Research undertaken by Dr. Norman Rosenthal and his colleagues of the National Institute of Mental Health (Bethesda, MD) have confirmed that profound biochemical reactions induced by a lack of exposure to a full-spectrum EME affects moods as well as sexuality, growth and energy levels. A cluster of brain cells referred to as the suprachiasmatic nucleus monitors EME which enters the eyes, which is then used to regulate the output of hormones secreted by glands within the endocrine system.

? INCREASED BLOOD PRESSURE & CHOLESTEROL LEVELS Investigators have shown that both blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels can be substantially reduced after exposure to outdoor environments. It is worth noting that the epidemiological data taken from "primitive" population groups who spend virtually all of the solar day outdoors indicates they are essentially unaffected by high blood pressure or the high levels of cholesterol which can lead to the kind of degenerative cardiovascular diseases which are now responsible for approximately half of the deaths in the U.S.

Sunlight and the Brain

This image was provided courtesy of The New York Times

Note in the above illustration how the ultraviolet photons in the natural outdoor environment are absorbed by specialized photoreceptor cells located in the retina of the eye. When the ultraviolet energy in sunlight enters the eyes, it is transferred in major neural pathways that travel deep into the brain to the hypothalamus, where some of the energy enters the spinal cord and eventually travels to the pineal gland that then manufactures the hormone melatonin.

About Harry Braun

Harry Braun is author of The Phoenix Project: Shifting from Oil to Hydrogen (phoenixproject.net), which discusses photobiology in more detail. Harry has worked as an energy and environmental analyst for the past 30 years, and is the Chairman & CEO of Sustainable Partners LLC, a systems integration firm that is involved in a number of renewable energy projects, including the development of a $180 million wind farm project in New Mexico. Harry received a Bachelors degree from Arizona State University in 1971. His undergraduate work was in history and general science, while his graduate work focused on anthropology and evolutionary biology. His post graduate research has been in the areas of energy technologies and resources, as well as the on-going developments in molecular biology, protein engineering and nanotechnology.

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