By Dr. Mercola
Can reading yourself to sleep or texting into the wee hours of the morning raise your risk of cancer? You bet it can. Exposing yourself to artificial light at night shuts down your body’s production of an important hormone called melatonin.
Melatonin has roles in cancer prevention, strengthening your immune system, and may even slow down cellular aging; in fact, it has been the subject of preclinical research on over 100 different disease applications.1 It’s your body’s “Superhero of the Night,” and light is his number one nemesis.
For the past century or so, the developed world has been performing an open-ended experiment on itself by lengthening its days and shortening its nights in an effort to become a 24-hour per day, ever-productive society.
But light pollution generated by modern technologies is taking a heavy biological toll on humans, as well as other forms of life on Earth.
For more than 200,000 years, humans and other life forms evolved organs that took advantage of environmental cues. We developed a biological clock governed by Earth’s cycles of light and darkness.
Artificial lighting disrupts your biological clock and melatonin production, with unfortunate effects on your health. As Dr. Russel Reiter says in the presentation above, “light may be killing you.”
The Dark Side of Night
In humans as with all mammals, your biological clock resides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of your brain (SCN), which is part of your hypothalamus. Based on signals of light and darkness, your SCN tells your pineal gland2 when it’s time to secrete melatonin.
Light comes in through your eyes and travels up your optic nerves to the SCN, which is exquisitely sensitive to cycles of light and darkness.
When you turn on a light at night, you immediately send your brain misinformation about the light-dark cycle. The only thing your brain interprets light to be is day. Believing daytime has arrived, your biological clock instructs your pineal gland to immediately cease its production of melatonin.
Whether you have the light on for an hour or for just a second, the effect is the same — and your melatonin pump doesn’t turn back on when you flip the light back off.
Since humans evolved in the glow of firelight, the yellow, orange and red wavelengths don’t suppress melatonin production the way white and blue wavelengths do. In fact, the range of light that inhibits melatonin is fairly narrow — 460 to 480 nm. If you want to protect your melatonin, when the sun goes down you would shift to a low wattage bulb with yellow, orange, or red light. Dr. Reiter suggests using a salt lamp illuminated by a 5-watt bulb in this color range.
The Massive Health Benefits of Melatonin
The hormone melatonin produces a number of health benefits in terms of your immune system. It’s a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps combat inflammation. In fact, melatonin is so integral to your immune system that a lack of it causes your thymus gland, a key component of your immune system, to atrophy.3 Melatonin may even have a role in slowing the aging of your brain.
In addition to helping you fall asleep and bestowing a feeling of overall comfort and well being, melatonin has proven to have an impressive array of anti-cancer benefits.4 Melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggering cancer cell apoptosis (self destruction). The hormone also interferes with the new blood supply tumors require for their rapid growth (angiogenesis).5 Melatonin can boost efficacy and decrease the toxicity of cancer chemotherapy.6
Melatonin May Be Breast Cancer’s Worst Nightmare
Peer-reviewed and published research has shown melatonin offers particularly strong protection against reproductive cancers. Cells throughout your body — even cancer cells — have melatonin receptors. So when melatonin makes its nightly rounds, cell division slows. When this hormone latches onto a breast cancer cell, it has been found to counteract estrogen’s tendency to stimulate cell growth.
In fact, melatonin has a calming effect on several reproductive hormones, which may explain why it seems to protect against sex hormone-driven cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, breast, prostate and testicular cancers. GreenMedInfo lists twenty studies demonstrating exactly how melatonin exerts its protective effects against breast cancer.
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