Light: The Fundamental Nutrient For Life
April 06, 2020
April 06, 2020
When you consider the elements of a healthy diet, what comes to mind?
Like most, you’re probably starting to think of various foods—fruit, vegetables, animal protein, etc.—which have been deemed healthy because of their caloric and macronutrient composition.
This a great place to start. But in doing so, we are only telling one half of the story and fail to consider the most powerful tool available for nourishing the body—light.
In fact, consider for a moment how the foods we eat as part of a healthy diet get their energy. You guessed it—the sun! Natural light provides the energy required for plants to grow through a process called photosynthesis—energy which they readily pass onto us when consumed. The same is true for the animals we eat, which rely on plants for sustenance and benefit from the vitamins provided uniquely by the sun. In this way, the nourishing foods we consume truly start with the light.
But it goes even deeper. Light is deeply intertwined with human biology and a major component of our functional health. We rely on light to fuel both energy production and recovery through natural processes connected to our evolutionary development.
Yet, many have never stopped to evaluate the role of light in shaping lifestyle and culturally, we have drifted far from nature’s intent. But, to create a complete functional ecosystem, we must think of light as the fundamental nutrient and understand that without it, neither function or health can be achieved.
The Biology of Light
Our mitochondria rely on light to assist in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is created through a process called oxidative phosphorylation. ATP is the fuel for human function, and the ability for mitochondria to produce it efficiently translates to optimal health. The sun’s natural red and infrared wavelengths, which are uniquely capable of penetrating the skin, stimulate mitochondria to do exactly that. Exposure to the sun’s spectrum has been shown to increase cytochrome C oxidase (CCO) activity, and decrease the presence of harmful nitric oxide—this translates to more efficient mitochondria and enhanced overall function. The sun is also an abundant source of Vitamin D, which helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are detrimental to cellular health.
Additionally, we have evolved to rely on natural light in dictating our circadian rhythm through a powerful hormone called melatonin. Nature is constantly providing guidance via the sun and it is melatonin’s job to effectively decode these messages into physical, mental and behavioral responses. Melatonin’s most important role is undoubtedly the regulation of sleep. As the sun gradually disappears at day’s end, melatonin secretion calms the body for optimal rest and recovery. This process occurs day-after-day and in this way, we can think about light as the fundamental nutrient for fueling sleep.
At least this is how it should go.
The reality is that our powerful brains and modern living have disconnected us from nature. We eat highly-processed foods, operate behind filtered glass, work in offices under artificial light and rely on blue-light emitting screens for everything we do. We exist, effectively, in a state of light starvation, which has caused inhibited mitochondrial efficiency and disrupted our fundamental circadian rhythm. As you would expect with any deficiency, this has created serious dysfunction and the chronic conditions that have resulted are the new normal.
Light As A Guide
Fortunately, reconnecting with nature and using light as a guide for our daily nutrition and lifestyle choices can assist in creating a functional ecosystem for optimal health.
Let’s start with nutrition. When thinking about food, consider its origin as it relates to light—if the sun never played a role in the creation of a particular food, it may be best to avoid it altogether. We’re talking highly processed foods, artificial/synthetic ingredients and even the animal proteins we choose (yes, animals too! Conventionally-farmed animals are raised on unnatural diets and rarely see the light in feed-lot conditions). It is fair to consider these foods nutritionally depleted due to their macro and micro nutrient content (or lack thereof), but it may be even more accurate to call them light depleted.
When we consume light depleted foods, they do not properly fuel mitochondrial health because they don’t contain the necessary composition of electrons and protons as derived from light. The result: our mitochondria cannot produce the energy to sustain optimal health and dysfunction in the form of inflammation, metabolic disorders, and chronic disease ensues.
Beyond what we eat, we must also structure our day around the sun as this is how we have evolved. This requires an understanding of and focus on the sun’s energy and visible light spectrum, which your body is constantly looking to for guidance.
In fact, how you start your day dictates how you finish it. The morning sun contains natural, visible blue light, which suppresses melatonin production and stimulates a healthy level of cortisol. This helps us power through the day, sustain energy levels and maintain a proper circadian rhythm. As the day progresses and the sun’s visible light spectrum changes, our body responds by secreting more melatonin, suppressing cortisol levels and entering a calming state to prepare us for sleep. This happens naturally, but can easily become disrupted. Unfortunately, our typical lack of exposure to morning sun paired with constant stimulation from artificial blue light and parasympathetic stressors, especially at night, has left our bodies confused, over producing cortisol, and lacking melatonin. Our sleep and functional health have suffered as a result, which is where so many people find themselves today.
Light As A Lifestyle
So what’s the solution? Reconnect your life with light for proper nourishment!
The food we eat should be directly connected and derived from nature, seasonal and if possible, local. Food that meets this criteria will contain the nourishing properties of light and fuel cellular production of energy for long-term heath.
In addition, our daily routine should be connected to nature’s rhythm and the sun’s spectrum. Natural blue light in the morning followed by the sun’s red and infrared light throughout the day is a recipe for healthy cortisol levels, sustained energy and efficient secretion of melatonin for optimal sleep and recovery. Just 10 minutes before 10 am and 20 minutes throughout the day can make a huge difference, but a higher dose is always welcome. Be sure you are allowing the sun to hit your eyes and skin directly—this means no makeup, glasses and as much bare skin as possible.
When the sun goes down, do everything possible to avoid blue light and stop eating. Your body is not optimized to handle stimulus from artificial blue light nor can it effectively utilize nutrition without the presence of light. Optimizing these practices ensures a routine that works for you, not against you!
Bottomline: light is the fundamental nutrient for life—without it we could not perform the most basic mitochondrial functions. In the absence of light or presence of artificial light, we experience cellular chaos. To create a functional ecosystem, every action we take should directly align us with the sun’s spectrum in order to promote normal cellular function—this is the surest way to health and doing all things well, all the time.