Scientists have known for a long time that heart attacks increase in frequency during the dark, cold winter months—and decrease during the bright, warm summer months. What’s more, places that are sunnier year-round also have lower rates of heart attacks.
And now, researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have begun to explore exactly how exposure to strong light protects the heart.
Of course, if you’re a long-time reader of my Daily Dispatch and monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter, this new line of research makes sense, as I talk a lot about the importance of exposure to strong sunlight for overall health—and heart health, in particular.
First and foremost, exposure to strong sunlight prompts the body to produce vitamin D, the all-important vitamin that decreases your risk of developing just about every chronic disease on the planet. And we know vitamin D also provides targeted protection to the heart as well.
For example, it helps keep blood flowing at all times to the heart. And it triggers the skin to release its stores of nitric oxide (NO) into the bloodstream, which helps dilate the blood vessels. And dilated blood vessels result in reduced resistance and lowered blood pressure.
So, now, let’s take a look at the new research in how exposure to strong light affects the body…
Exposure to intense light “amplifies” powerful PER2 gene
In the first phase of the new study, researchers exposed lab mice to intense light for one week. They found that the intense light “amplified” the brain’s daily expression of PER2, a gene that controls circadian rhythm, as I discussed in the September 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“When you eat can dictate your health”).
The exposure to intense light also increased adenosine, a chemical produced by the heart that helps with blood flow regulation. (Remember, reduced blood flow of nutrients and oxygen to the heart is the ultimate cause of angina pectoris—or heart pains—and heart attacks.) So, as a result, the mice experienced added protection against damage to the heart tissue, due to low oxygen, following a heart attack.
Encouraged by their findings in mice, the researchers then moved onto humans…
Major benefits from just 30 minutes a day of intense light
In the next phase of study, the researchers exposed healthy adults to 10,000 lumens (LUX) of intense light for 30 minutes a day for five days. The researchers also took samples of the participants’ blood each day.
In turns out, the people treated with intense light experienced increases in the PER2 gene, just as the lab mice experienced. Remember, this gene:
- Controls your circadian rhythm
- Increases the heart’s production of adenosine (which regulates blood flow)
- Protects the blood vessels and heart against tissue damage
Interestingly, the participants also experienced improvements in their overall metabolism. Specifically, they “significantly” improved their triglyceride (blood fat) levels. And that’s important, as triglycerides are a strong indicator of insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism.
The researchers concluded the study by suggesting to use light therapy to treat and prevent low oxygen conditions in the heart. For example, they thought light therapy could be prescribed before heart surgery and other types of surgery that put your heart at such risk.
They also suggested developing drugs “that offer similar protections based on these findings.”
But that’s ridiculous. Why not just recommend lots of natural sun exposure to everyone? And forget the patented light therapies and drugs!
It really all comes back around to three sensible recommendations I’ve been making for years…
- Spend 15-20 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen, even at this time of year, when the sun is lower in the sky, for other health benefits.
- Supplement year-round with 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. You can now find this dose in a convenient, highly-absorbable liquid form together with the potent marine carotenoid, astaxanthin, for added benefits. (For more information, simply type “astaxanthin” into the top right search bar of my website.)
- Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels twice a year—once toward the end of winter and again toward the end of summer. Just ask for a simple blood test called the 25(OH)D (25-hydroxy vitamin D) test. (Optimal blood levels are between 50 and 75 nanomoles/Liter.)
Lastly, if possible, try to spend a little time this winter in warmer, sunnier climates. As this study suggests, snowbirds experience major health benefits, including a boost of vitamin D mid-winter, which supports your heart and metabolism.
Or, better yet, consider relocating, if you can, to Florida, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, or South Carolina, where you’ll get more intense sun exposure year-round. (Unfortunately I can’t recommend southern California. And the jury’s now out on Arizona too…)
And take a look at my Heart Attack Prevention and Repair Protocol. This innovative, online learning tool explains the natural, heart-healing pathway to low blood pressure, a stroke-free brain, and never taking a dangerous heart medication again. To learn more, or to enroll today, click here!
“Intense Light-Mediated Circadian Cardioprotection via Transcriptional Reprogramming of the Endothelium.” Cell Reports, August 2019; 28(6): 1471-1484. doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2019.07.202