Death by Light Bulb

And now to the post I really came out here to write…

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an interesting article today (actually from the Washington Post’s Rick Weiss) titled, “Seeing the light of day,” about the effects of using artificial illumination on our health. I couldn’t find the article on St. Louis’s website, but the Washington Post has it here, and it contains details that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch edited out for whatever reason. (Link may require registration with the paper, but it’s free.)

[An aside: I notice the change that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made to the subtitle. The Washington Post has: “Artificial illumination can affect more than your mental health,” while the Post-Dispatch changes the ending of that subtitle to “can mess with more than your mental health” (emphasis mine). The thinking behind changes and wordsmithing decisions like that interest me, but that is for another (more boring) post…]

The article was an interesting read. Not that topics like this are rare at this time of year, with the coming of winter, the change in Daylight Savings Time status, etc. The knowledge that our moods and sleep cycles are affected by our use of light and our artificial “extension” of the day, as well as by the types of light to which we are exposed, has been long known and often discussed.

But this article added a few tidbits that I did not know (though, perhaps, many of you did). For instance, it has been observed that women who have worked night-shifts for 20 to 30 years experience breast cancer rates that are 30% to 80% higher than those who work day-shifts. While, as the article points out, “[t]he mechanism is still not fully understood” (and I will assume that the type of occupation has been accounted for as a factor), there are studies suggesting that extended night-time illumination may be the culprit. Such late night lighting suppresses the body’s production of melatonin (which helps regulate sleep & drowsiness) which, it seems , is a powerful, naturally produced cancer fighting hormone. (So, get your rest!) The article also notes that “profoundly blind women also have very low rates of breast cancer” — an odd connection until one considers that their blindness prevents light from suppressing their melatonin levels.

I also enjoyed learning that in 2002 Brown University researchers discovered a new kind of light detecting cell in the eye that wasn’t the usual “rod” or “cone”: ganglion cells. Apparently, unlike rods or cones, they are specifically attuned to sky-blue light and seem designed to tell the brain that day has begun.

Check out the article. You might enjoy reading about ganglion cells and the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or about steps that can be taken to help counter the ill effects of our society’s detatchment from the natural cycles of light and dark.

For me, two quotes from the article caught my eye. The first from David Avery, a psychiatrist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who said, “Electric lights are wonderful, but as with a lot of other things, we really mess things up.”

The second was this one, from Dr. Thomas Wehr, a psychiatrist with the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland: “We are living in an experiment that is finding out what happens if you expose humans to constant summer day lengths.”

I suspect that the final results of that experiment are going to be pretty yucky. I would imagine that many of our modern ailments and afflictions — from cancer to heart disease, and from muscular dystrophy to diabetes — are tied to common place elements of our modern ways of living in ways that will shock us when we finally learn the truth.

That’s part of the burden that man took on when he decided to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (and we all make that same decision pretty early in our lives, just like Adam did). God can declare “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10). Man, not so much so. We must make decisions that will have long term consequences we cannot possibly fully fathom, and the result is that man’s existence becomes one long experiment — an experiment which, in many ways, seems as though it is rapidly coming to its conclusion.

Anyways — I opened up the shade in my office after reading the article to see some of that blue sky and to mix some of the sun’s rays with the ceiling light here in the cave. No word of thanks from my ganglion cells, yet.

3 thoughts on “Death by Light Bulb

  1. Very interesting article, especially when you consider that, in its infancy, electric lighting was meant mostly for factories so they could increase their hours of production. A good read.

  2. Too bad then that my windows are on the north side of my apartment. When I open my shades, they let in heat, but not as much light as my poor blue-hungry eyes would like.

    Still, I started opening them regularly last week, before I read this article. I feel better already, if only marginally.

  3. Pingback: open97 » Death by Light Bulb

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