How a Healthy Light Diet Can Help Prevent Depression and Anxiety - Part 2

In the last article I talked about how light - especially visible blue wavelengths -affects sleep and other processes, and thus has a very direct impact on mental health.  In this post I will talk a bit about other ways that our "Light Diet" impacts our health, along with some easy ways to make sure we get all the light "nutrition" we require.  Just as with a healthy food diet, our Light Diet needs to take into account both getting plenty of the essential and beneficial elements, and also avoiding harmful stuff.

Light - Don't Forget To Get The Good Stuff!

Our bodies use visible and non-visible sun energy for all kinds of functions that are fundamental to our health, including mental health.  Let's not forget this fact -- we live in a solar system. All life on earth is dependent on the sun’s ‘full-spectrum’ of light radiation.  No light, no life.   At a recent conference of luminaries (ha ha!) in the health and bio-hacking field, a large number of participants stated that one of “best free bio-hacks” available is adequate sun exposure. Although our pre-electricity ancestors spent a lot more time in the dark than we do, contemporary cave-dwellers actually get a lot less sunlight than our ancestors did.  We tend to spend most of our time, both day and night, indoors under artificial light. Today we spend an average of less than 30 minutes a day or a mere 3 hours per week in daylight and often much less according to a study by Daniel Kripke, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, UC San Diego.

Our Eyes Are Not The Only Light Pathways In Our Bodies

We generally think of light in terms of our eyes, and specifically vision, but there are many Light Pathways in our bodies.  In addition to the visual receptors in our eyes there are other receptors and cells in our eyes and throughout the body that don't have anything to do with seeing… but are still light-dependent. A major pathway for sunlight is through the skin.  Wait, light can’t get through our skin, right?  Wrong!  As any kid who’s ever shined a flashlight through their fingers knows, the red wavelengths do get through. In fact, if you step outside on a sunny day, there’s enough light going through to your brain, you could read a book in there!   There are lots of under-the-skin systems and processes that use light.  Red-light wavelengths (including infrared and near-infrared) can penetrate  8-10 mm under the skin, and affect the cells in muscle, bone and organs.

Sunlight Is One Of The Most Important Elements Of Good Mental Health

Most people are familiar with the concept of seasonal depression -- referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD -- which affects millions of people worldwide during the winter when daylight is scarce.  The treatment for that type of depression is simply getting enough exposure to sun/full spectrum light.  Although small amounts may not be the best for optimal health, it actually does not take much to stave off SAD, just as it only takes a small intake of Vitamin C to prevent scurvy. An unhealthy light diet is also closely linked to other causes of depression, and more studies are pointing to the effectiveness of light treatments for depression.  This is not surprising, since light is so closely linked to a large number of brain and body functions that directly impact cognition and mood.

Vitamin D Deficiency Is Linked To Depression

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to serious health consequences, including Depression, and Vitamin D plays many roles in the body.  Yet it’s estimated that more than 40% of American adults have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is made in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight.   Sun exposure is by far the best way to boost vitamin D levels, particularly because very few foods contain significant amounts. Only a handful of foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D, including cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and sardines. You would need to eat them nearly every day to get enough vitamin D. However, just a few minutes each day of sunlight on your skin will produce ample Vitamin D (the time required depends on a few things like your skin tone, distance from the equator, and how much skin is exposed to the sun). In the summer in North America or Europe, 10-30 minutes of sunlight on your skin will produce your minimum of Vitamin D. In the winter, the further north you live the less sunlight you receive, so it is important to supplement your diet or, even better, to use a full-spectrum lighting solution.

2 Simple Ways To Improve Your Light Diet For Better Mental Health

  1. Get plenty of full-spectrum light (sunlight). Strive to get at least 30 minutes of morning light every day. If you live in a place with weak winter sunlight, consider a full-spectrum “light box” for your family.
  2. Reduce and eliminate exposure to Junk Light.Change bulbs out for full-spectrum, limit exposure to screens, and wear blue-light blocking glasses.
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