“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
Life is a series of opportunities to learn to do better. Every month, I try to write an article with the hope that it will be of value to those of you trying to do the same as I, create a home that supports health and happiness. So, it’s sometimes very frustrating when you are trying to do all the “right” things, only to find out that “right” has changed! Such is the case with an article I wrote around this time last year about the potential health hazards of CFL light bulbs. In that article, I told you to prepare for the industry shift to LED. That shift has for sure been happening. However, in this last year, more and more information has become available about the negative impacts that overexposure to LED lights is having too! Ugh!
So what are the biggest concern with LED lights? There are many health experts now talking about this, so you need only to do a quick Google search for more in depth reading on the subject. I’m going to summarize some of the work done by Dr. Alexander Wunsch, a photobiologist (who even knew there was such a specialty!) He is a leading international expert and I encourage you to look him up and listen to a few of his many interviews and lectures. This is an exhaustive area that I’m just going to touch on here.
LED light is very different from other light sources in several key ways and that is why they have a more negative impact on health. Here are some of the most important differences:
1) Non-native ElectroMagnetic Frequency Radiation (nnEMF), meaning it is from man-made sources not from naturally occurring EMF
2) Excess of blue light: one of the highest energy and shortest visible wave lengths (about 380 nm – 500 nm)
3) Absence of Near-Infrared
4) LED is a digital form that emits a constant flicker, not recognized visually, but which impacts cells.
Let’s get the most controversial part of this subject out of the way first. nnEMF. This is an area of great debate. While there are some international standards for recommended limits on levels of exposure to nnEMF, the United States has no formal federal regulations and only a handful of states have instituted their own standards. On one side of the argument are experts and government agencies tasked with the job of defining risk. They argue that there just is not enough research conclusively showing that nnEMF exposure causes significant health concerns (with the exception of childhood leukemia) to warrant strict regulation. On the other side, there is a growing number of industry and health leaders who are decrying nnEMF exposure as a key causative factor for a looming medical crisis. If like me, electromagnetism is not your area of expertise, it can be daunting to read through all of the conflicting reports. The conclusion I have been able to draw is that the mounting evidence indeed points toward a very real possibility that nnEMF poses a significant threat to our health both in acute and long term ways. So for that reason, I have decided to adopt what is called the Precautionary Principle when considering EMF exposure. Daniel DeBaun, CEO of DefenderShield, is a recognized international authority on the the subject. His interviews are certainly worth listening to for more information.
Light is critical to energy production in living organisms, including humans – right down to the cellular level (our mitochondria). Mitochondria are generally recognized as the “power house of the cell” or the part of each cell that is responsible, in gross terms, for converting food molecules into a form of energy that each individual cell of the body can use for energy. That usable form is called ATP. Without it, the cells of the body literally can not function. Mitochondria are extremely fascinating, because while present in every single cell of our body, they have a DNA different from the rest of the cell they are housed in. The most current hypothesis is that mitochondria are not even “human”. Wow…but that’s a whole other topic. What is important to know is that a light absorbing molecule is the final sequence of this energy production by the mitochondria. We literally need the long wavelengths of light (red and near-infrared) used in this process in order to support mitochondrial function. The short wavelengths of red and near-infrared are also shown to stimulate healing in the body. Conversely, other short wavelengths, such as the blue, actually create damage. The short blue light wavelengths of LED lights coupled with the fact they are missing the near-infrared lights makes exposure to LED very disruptive, causes cell stress, suppresses melatonin production and inhibits the ability of the body to heal.
The constant fliker emitted by LED. This topic requires a greater explanation of electricity, drivers, frequency and currents than I can explain. Basically, LED lights can only avoid flicker when fully on. In order to dim them, they have to alternate between fully on and off. While this can happen so quickly that in perhaps 90% of the population the eye often does not perceive the flicker, other cells of the body do. This bioactive flicker causes disruption to many areas of the body’s functioning.
The good news is that not all LED lights are manufactured the same. There are some that are a better choice than others. You can not simply switch to an LED that appears less blue. The warmer color can be masked by using higher out puts of yellow or orange without adding in the red spectrum or decreasing the blue. So look for manufacturers who block the wavelengths known to be bioactively harmful. I just started using the nightlights from lowbluelights.com. So far it has made a noticeable difference in my children’s ability to fall asleep more easily. I still go in and actually turn off the light once they are asleep. This is because, as I wrote in a previous article, it is critical to have absolutely no light in your room while sleeping. Other tips to choosing better lighting for your health would be to only have incandescent or halogen lights on in the evening. Limit screen time as long before bed as possible, but at least 1 hour prior retiring. Special blue blocking glasses and screen covers can be purchased as well as many newer screen devices have settings for lowering the blue light emission.
Light is something you have some measure of authority over. Controlling the quality and quantity of light you get is a relatively simple action you can take that may just have complex impacts toward improving the impact your home has on your health. I encourage you to start studying the impacts of LED on health at a much deeper level than this article…..and stay tuned – As I learn more, I’ll be sure to share information on lighting and resources for you to incorporate better light choices. As we learn together we can do better!
Dr. Summer Beattie,ND was born and grew up in Southeawst Alaska – it will always be home. A 2004 graduate of Bastyr University, she served two terms on the board of directors for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and has worked in a variety of primary and specialty care settings. This has given her a broad wealth of experience that she now uses in a unique clinical practice with a focus on rejuvenative physical and aesthetic medicine. Dr. Beattie,ND offers comprehensive care as it relates to physical rehabilitation from a Naturopathic Orthopedic perspective. You can find her and on-line patient programs at www.onehealingmedical.com