Can light affect your health? In this interview, Dr. Alexander Wunsch, a world class expert on photobiology, shares the hidden dangers of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting that most people are completely unaware of.
In fact, this could potentially be one of the most important video interviews I’ve done, as it has enormous impacts — not only on preventing blindness as you age but it is also a pervasive hidden risk factor for sabotaging your health.
Largely as a result of energy efficiency, there’s been a major transition to using LED as a primary indoor light source. In this regard, it worked like a charm, reducing energy requirements by as much as 95 percent compared to incandescent thermal analog sources of lighting.
However, the heat generated by incandescent light bulbs, which is infrared radiation, is actually beneficial to your health, and hence worth the extra cost.
There are major downsides to LEDs that are not fully appreciated. LED lighting may actually be one of the most important, non-native EMF radiation exposures you’re exposed to on a daily basis.
If you chose to ignore these new insights, it can have very serious long-term ramifications. It could lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and elsewhere.
Other health problems rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction may also be exacerbated, and these run the gamut from metabolic disorder to cancer.
not present in an LED spectrum.
We have increased stress on the short wavelength part and we have reduced regeneration and repair on the long wavelength part. This is the primary problem … [W]e don’t have this kind of light quality in nature. This has consequences. The stress has consequences in the retina; it has consequences in our endocrine system.”
You probably know by now that blue light in the evening reduces melatonin production in your pineal gland. But you also have cells in your retina that are responsible for producing melatonin in order to regenerate the retina during the night.
If you use LED lights after sunset, you reduce the regenerative and restoring capacities of your eyes. Needless to say, with less regeneration you end up with degeneration. In this case, the degeneration can lead to AMD, which is the primary cause of blindness among the elderly. However, and this is that most fail to appreciate, LED light exposure that is not balanced with full sunlight loaded with the red parts of the spectrum is always damaging to your biology. Just more so at night.
So, to summarize, the main problem with LEDs is the fact that they emit primarily blue wavelengths and lack the counterbalancing healing and regenerative near-infrared frequencies. They have very little red in them, and no infrared, which is the wavelength required for repair and regeneration.
When you use these aggressive lower frequencies — blue light — it creates ROS that, when generated in excess, causes damage. So when using LEDs, you end up with increased damage and decreased repair and regeneration.
Are There Any Healthy LEDs?
There’s a wide range of LED lights on the market these days. Some are cool white, others are warm white, for example. The former emits higher amounts of harmful blue light. The warm LEDs can be deceptive, as they give out a warm-appearing light but do not actually have the red wavelength. The warmth comes from masking the blue with high amounts of yellow and orange.
There are also LEDs available with less blue, which are closer to the spectral distribution of incandescent lamps with regard to the blue part of the spectrum. Unfortunately, without tools to measure it, you won’t know exactly what you’re getting. This is in sharp contrast to an incandescent light bulb, where you know exactly what kind of light spectrum you’re getting.
“With LED, the layman is not able to tell if it’s a tailored spectrum where you have the blue part only masked by excessive parts of other spectral regions,” Wunsch says. “There are different technologies … Soraa, for example, have violet driver LED, not blue … By their technology, the red is a little bit more emphasized compared to the standard white light fluorescent LEDs.
So there are in fact better and worse LED types around. But the spectral distribution is just one thing … We are interested in the R9, which represents the full reds. This information is sometimes given on the package. You have, for example, CRI, which is the color rendering index of 95 with an R9 of 97 or so. This is the only sign for the customer that you have a high level or a high index for the R9.”
How to Identify a Healthier LED
So, when buying LEDs, one way to get a healthier light is to look at the CRI. Sunlight is the gold standard and has a CRI of 100. So do incandescent light bulbs and candles. What you’re looking for is a light that has an R9 (full red spectrum) CRI of about 97, which is the closest you’ll ever get to a natural light with a LED. Another factor to look at is the color temperature. There are two different kinds of color temperature:
- Physical color temperature, which means the temperature of your light in degrees Kelvin (K). This applies to sunlight, candlelight, incandescent lamp light, and halogens. What this means is that the source itself is as hot to the touch as the color temperature given.
The sun, for example, which has a color temperature of 5,500 K, has a temperature of 5,500 K at its surface, were you to actually touch the sun. Incandescent lamps have a maximum of 3,000 K, as the filament would melt if the temperature got any higher.
- Correlated color temperature. This is a measurement that tells you how the light source appears to the human eye. In other words, it is a comparative measurement. A correlated color temperature of 2,700 K means it looks the same as a natural light source with a physical color temperature of 2,700 K.
The problem here is that while such a light LOOKS the same as a natural light, it does not actually have the same quality, and your body, on the cellular level, is not fooled by what your eye sees. On a cellular level, and on the level of the retina, the majority of the light is still cold, bluish white, despite its apparent, visible warmth.
Incandescent light bulbs have a color temperature of 2,700 K whereas LEDs can go up to 6,500 K — the really bright white LED. In this case, the closer you are to incandescent, the better. Lastly, there’s the digital component, which is virtually unavoidable no matter what. To determine how good or bad a particular LED is:
“You would have to measure somehow if the LED produces flicker or not. Two, three years ago, it would have been much easier because the camera of an older smartphone was not as high-tech equipped as they are today. With an old smartphone camera, when you look into the light source, you can see these wandering lines, so you can detect if the light source is flickering,” Wunsch explains.
A simpler way would be to purchase a flicker detector, which are available fairly inexpensively. Another way to determine the flicker rate would be to use the slow motion mode on your camera. Record the light source in slow motion mode and check it for visible flickering.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Some newer cameras and smartphones have a built-in algorithm that will detect the flicker frequency and change the shutter speed accordingly to improve the recording, thereby eliminating the interference. If your camera has this algorithm, it will not record a visible flicker even if it’s there.
I like being on the cutting edge of technology and I quickly switched out all my incandescent bulbs for LED lighting. I now realize the enormity of my mistake, but at the time — going back almost 10 years now — I was completely unaware that it could have health consequences. Before that, I used full-spectrum fluorescents, which is equally deceptive, as it is a full spectrum in name only.
I’m now convinced LED light exposure is a very serious danger, especially if you are in a room without natural light. The biological risks are somewhat mitigated if you have plenty of sunlight streaming through windows. At night, LEDs become a greater danger no matter whether you’re in a windowless room or not, as there is no counterbalancing near-infrared light.
Personally, I’ve not swapped all my lights back to incandescent because they’re such energy hogs. But all the lights I have on at night have been switched to clear incandescent bulbs without any coating that changes their beneficial wavelengths. So the take-home message of this interview is to grab a supply of the old incandescents if you can and switch back to incandescent light bulbs.
Just remember to get incandescents that are crystal clear and not coated with white to give off a cool white light. You want a 2,700 K incandescent, thermal analog light source. Actually, fragrance-free candles would be even better. Be particularly mindful to only use this type of light at night. After sunset, I also use blue-blocking glasses.
“It is definitely a good idea to keep away the short wavelengths in the evening, so after sunset. It’s also a good idea not to intoxicate your environment with too much light. We know that artificial light levels at night have reached insane intensity. The candle, the intensity of the candle for example, is absolutely sufficient for orientation.
If you have to read in the evening or at night time, my personal favorite light source for reading tasks is a low-voltage incandescent halogen lamp, which is operated on a DC transformer. Direct current will eliminate all the dirty electricity and it will eliminate all the flicker.
There are transformers available where you can adjust the output between 6 volts and 12 volts. As long as it’s direct current, there is no flicker, there is no dirty electricity, and you are able to dim the halogen lamp into a color temperature that is comparable to candle light even. This is the softest, the healthiest electric light you can get at the moment,” Wunsch notes.
Low-voltage halogen lights are also very energy efficient — up to 100 percent more energy efficient than the standard incandescent lamp. Just be sure to operate it on DC. Incandescent lights, including halogen, can be operated at both AC and DC, but when operating on AC, you end up generating dirty electricity, Wunsch explains. On DC, you get no electrosmog with a low-voltage halogen.
The following graphic illustrates the differences in color spectrum between an incandescent light, which has very little blue, compared to fluorescent light and white LED.
This next graph illustrates the differences between daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, cool white LED and warm white LED. As you can see, there’s a tremendous difference between incandescent and warm LED. While they may look the same to the naked eye, there’s no comparison when it comes to their actual light qualities.
Looking at the spectral differences between incandescent and halogen lamps, there seems to be no difference at all. In order to elucidate the disparity, Wunsch did some measurements of incandescent and halogen lamps using his UPRtek MK350S spectrometer. The differences are almost imperceptible, indeed.
The spectrum of a standard incandescent lamp: Correlated color temperature (CCT) = 2890 K.
The spectrum of an energy saving halogen lamp: Correlated color temperature (CCT) = 2842 K.
How to Make Digital Screens Healthier
When it comes to computer screens, Wunsch suggests reducing the correlated color temperature down to 2,700 K — even during the day, not just at night. Many use f.lux to do this, but I have a great surprise for you as I have found a FAR better alternative that was created by Daniel, a 22-year-old Bulgarian programmer that Ben Greenfield introduced to me.
He is one of the rare people that already knew most of the information in this article. So he was using f.lux but was very frustrated with the controls. He attempted to contact them but they never got back to him. So he created a massively superior alternative called Iris. It is free, but you’ll want to pay the $2 and reward Daniel with the donation. You can purchase the $2 Iris software here. OLED screen technology is another development that may be better than conventional screens.
“[With] the OLEDs technology, I’m not sure if the color is really stable in every angle you can look at the display,” Wunsch says. “But definitely, if you have the screen technology where black is really black, then you have less radiation coming into your eyes and the OLEDs technology is able to provide this.
So the high contrasts between the black and white, all the black areas in the thin-film-transistor (TFT) screen or the standard screen are not really black. They are also emitting shortwave radiation. The OLED screen only emits where you see light, where there is black on the screen, there is no light. This might be preferable as long as you have no problems with the [viewing] angle.”
To Protect Your Health and Vision, Stick to Incandescent Lights
LEDs are a perfect example of how we’re sabotaging our health with otherwise useful technology. However, with knowledge, we can proactively prevent the harm from occurring. In summary, we really need to limit our exposure to blue light, both during the daytime and at night. So for nighttime use, swap out your LEDs for clear bulb incandescents, or low-voltage incandescent halogen lights that are run on DC power.
I also strongly recommend using blue-blocking glasses after sundown, even if you use incandescent light bulbs. Without these modifications, the excessive blue light from LEDs and electronic screens will trigger your body to overproduce ROS and decrease the production of melatonin, both in your pineal gland and your retina, the latter of which will prevent repair and regeneration, thereby speeding up the degeneration of your eyesight.
“One thing to emphasize again, it’s not the blue light coming from the sun itself which we should be concerned about. It’s the blue light, the singular high energy visual light (HEV), which comes from cold energy-efficient non-thermal light sources. This is what causes the problem, not the blue light which comes together with longer wavelengths in a kind of natural cocktail that has the beneficial near-infrared spectrum …
The light surrogates from non-thermal light sources, these are [what cause] problems, and you have to be clever to avoid these Trojan horses. If you want to make it [safe], stay with the candles, stay with the incandescents,” Wunsch says.
Another Healthy Light Alternative
Candles are even a better light source than incandescent bulbs, as there is no electricity involved and is the light that our ancestors have used for many millennia so our bodies are already adapted to it. The only problem is that you need to be very careful about using just any old candle as most are toxic.
As you may or may not know, many candles available today are riddled with toxins, especially paraffin candles. Did you know that paraffin is a petroleum by-product created when crude oil is refined into gasoline? Further, a number of known carcinogens and toxins are added to the paraffin to increase burn stability, not including the potential for lead added to wicks, and shoot invading your lungs.
To complicate matters, a lot of candles, both paraffin, and soy, are corrupted with toxic dyes and fragrances; some soy candles are only partially soy with many other additives and/or use GMO soy. There seems to be a strange mindset that exposure to small amounts of toxins is OK, even though the exposure is exponential over time!
The soy is non-GMO, is clean burning without harmful fumes or soot, is grown in the U.S., and is both sustainable and renewable. Also, my candles are completely free of dyes. The soy in these candles is not tested on animals, is free of herbicides and pesticides.
It’s also kosher, 100 percent natural and bio-degradable. All of my fragrances are body safe, phthalate- and paraben-free, and contain no California prop 65 ingredients. The wicks are simply flat braided cotton coated in a natural vegetable wax and self-trimming, which reduces carbon build up.
Enjoying a Circle of Life Farms naturally good soy candle and following the simple burn instructions — located inside the candle lid — will give approximately 70+ hours of burn time. Every candle is hand-poured with love for you to enjoy a cooler, cleaner burn, all while being kind to the both the environment and yourself.
You can search online healthy candles, but if you like, you can use the ones I found at www.circleoflifefarms.com. This is not an affiliate link and I earn no commissions on these candles; I just thought you might benefit from the ones I now use in my home.