The Dark Side of LED Lighting


The article below originally appeared on Return to Now.

LED lights are making us blind and wreaking havoc on our endocrine systems, peer-reviewed studies show… Leading photobiologist recommends switching back to sunlight, candles and incandescent bulbs.

One of the world’s top photobiologists has been trying to warn the public for years about the dangers of the government-mandated phasing out of incandescent lighting.

While LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are up to 95 percent more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, we are paying for that savings with our health.

A physician and lecturer at Wismar University in Germany, Alexander Wunsch is an international consultant to governments, medical facilities and the lighting industry.

His message, though often ignored, is clear: blue light, isolated from all the other colors on the light spectrum, is damaging our retinas and disrupting our endocrine systems, resulting in all sorts of physical and mental illness.

It’s not a message the LED industry, governments looking to cut carbon emissions, or consumers saving money on electricity want to hear. But, as this Harvard Medical School report says, it is “backed up by study after study.”

Natural light vs. LED light

Natural light gives off all the colors (wavelengths) of the rainbow in a somewhat continuous manner, Wunsch explains in an interview with Dr. Mercola.

One of the comments below the video above (see Youtube) is this:

“I have seen this video about one year ago, and it got me thinking and studying the subject, i am a electronics design engineer, and i have actually designed quite a few LED products. the major issues i have found with the average LED lamps are as follows: – Massive peak in Blue light – Pulsing light, usually at invisible frequency, often a full on-off cycle – UV leakage from poor Quality LED’s, due to cracks in the Phosphorous and/or poor density of the applied phosphorous First of all the Blue peak, this is a big issue, as blue prevents Melatonin from being released. Melatonin is not just the sleep hormone, but also a very potent healing hormone that regulates healing and cleaning of the body. when you have lights at night that are 6000K, or “daylight white” it will effect your sleep and circadian rhythm and your overall health, please note, anything with a LCD display gives off a huge blue peak and should never be used after sunset, unless you wear blue blocking glasses. Light pulsing seems to have an effect on cell communication, the effects have not yet been fully discovered but its a very unnatural situation that we do not see in nature, especially if we see a 50% on-off duty cycle, its bad for us in most cases, especially at high frequencies. UV leakage, White LED’s employ a UV/Blue LED dice, and then use a Phosphorous to convert this blue light in to yellow, green and red. about 50% is converted, and 50% of the energy is irradiated as blue light. when cheap LED’s are used, the density of the phosphorous is too low, and UV escapes, this is bad for most people, especially if the exposure is constant. the amount of UV varies widely, and name brand LED’s from Samsung, CREE and Osram will not have UV output. These brands usually employ a 420-430NM blue dice without UV, and use much better phosphorous. the reason why UV/Blue light is used is because of the shorter wavelength is much more energy dense. this is why red light is safe, at a longer wavelength, and blue and UV are harmful. Some advice: The range of lighting devices, Bad to good, CFL, flickers at 50% duty, horrible spectrum peaks, least natural light. ( AVOID!) LED, results vary, never use 6000K, use 2800K, flicker free. use your cellphones slow mo record function to check for flickering. Best, Incandescent light, especially the old type “Edison” style tungsten filament lamps. light is 2300K, close to sun-set light. I’ve replaced all my lamps with these tungsten filament lamps, and i sleep better, my children sleep better, and i can tolerate getting up at night to help the baby Much better. There is much more to light, also as a medicine to help energize the body, we are starting to understand all the mechanisms just recently, if you want to know more on this topic, check Pubmed on PBM / LLLT or check my you tube videos on the subject. Experts in this field include Tiina Karu, Dr. Lin and Dr. Hamblin.”

Typical “white” LED lights consist of a blue light-emitting diode and phosphor (fluorescent) coating.

This fluorescent coating transforms part of the blue light into longer wavelengths, creating a yellowish “looking” light, but a large portion of the light emitted is still invisible blue light.

Blue light is high-energy, short-wave length “aggressive” light, responsible for keeping us awake and alert.

While present in sunlight, and a necessary ingredient for life, blue light needs to be balanced by all other colors of light, particularly its opposite color of light – red.

As you can see below, red light is absent in traditional fluorescent and LED lights:

Wunsch says most of us are severely deficient in near-infrared light, which has a wavelength of between 700 and 2500 nanometers.

The heat generated by incandescent light bulbs is infrared radiation. While this heat requires more electricity, the infrared light it generates is actually beneficial to your health, and therefore worth the extra cost, in Dr. Mercola’s opinion.

Near-infrared light – like that generated by a candle or fire – primes the cells in your retina for rest, repair and regeneration, which is why Wunsch uses it as a therapy on his patients.

Near-infrared is also a crucial energy source for humans. According to Wunsch, only about one-third of our bodies’ thermodynamic energy comes from food. A much larger portion comes from “photonic energy” from the sun.

The more near-infrared radiation we get, the less food is required for maintaining thermal homeostasis (body temperature), he says.

Health problems associated with excess blue light

LED lighting may be one of the largest sources of non-native electromagnetic radiation we are exposed to on a daily basis.

In addition to lighting our houses, office buildings, schools, stores and streets, LEDs have become the dominant technology for back-lighted tablet displays, such as iPads and e-readers, and large LCD television sets. Virtually all reading these days involves staring directly at an LED light source, rather than at newspapers, magazines and books, where light is reflected off the paper, rather than beamed directly into our eyes.

Many optometrists have spoken out about the damage this is doing to our eyes, one predicting 100,000 Americans will become legally blind due to blue-light damage over the next decade.

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Vision says prolonged exposure to blue light with a wavelength between 400–470 nanometers can “induce severe damage to the retina.”

Even brief periods of exposure to blue light in this range can damage the retinal pigment epithelium. Damaged RPE eventually leads to photoreceptor cell death,” the study says. If enough photoreceptor cells die, total blindness can occur.

In addition to damaging our eyesight, blue light after sunset disrupts our endocrine system.

“Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (including breast and prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, says an article published by Harvard Medical School.

These diseases may be related to the fact that light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, the article says:

While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

In addition to suppressing melatonin, Dr. Wunsch says excessive exposure to blue light creates “oxidative stress” that damages lipids, proteins and DNA and is linked to a myriad of pathologies.

What to Do

While cool LED bulbs emit more blue light than warm LED bulbs, the label “warm” can be deceptive. They give out a warmer “looking” light because the blue light is masked with a yellow or orange filter, but they do not emit a red wavelength.

When buying bulbs, look at their CRI or color rendering index, Wunsch says.

Sunlight, which is the gold standard, has a CRI of 100. So do incandescent bulbs and candles. If you must buy LED bulbs, look for a CRI of 97, which is the closest they come to natural light.

LEDs are the most dangerous at night, Wunsch says, as there is no counterbalancing red light. The biological risks of artificial light are somewhat mitigated if you have plenty of sunlight streaming through windows, but if that’s the case, why have lights on at all?

Wunsch says being in darkness after sunset is optimal. Candle light is enough for orientation, he says, but if we must do activities that require more light, he highly recommends getting our hands on incandescent bulbs.

While you won’t find them at most department stores, you can still buy “vintage” incandescent bulbs on Amazon.  Just make sure they are crystal clear, not coated, so as not to block the beneficial red light:

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For a more energy-efficient incandescent light, you can buy low-voltage halogen bulbs.

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Just make sure you operate halogen on DC rather than AC to prevent electrosmog, Munsch says.

And, if you must be exposed to blue light after dark, definitely wear blue-light blocking glasses:

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