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How Does Light Therapy Reverse Vitiligo?

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Light therapy is currently the most effective treatment for vitiligo. Here is how it works:

A growing body of research has indicated that the most effective treatment for vitiligo is light therapy. Among other vitiligo treatments, light therapy- particularly narrowband UVB light therapy- is up to 93 percent effective in re-pigmenting the skin partially or fully. The remission rate of light therapy is around 50 percent at 6 months, which is a much better remission rate than most other vitiligo treatments.

Although light therapy is one of the most effective treatments for vitiligo, and it is possible to increase the potential for greater skin pigmentation with the addition of supplements, few individuals realize how or why light therapy benefits vitiligo.

Until recently, doctors and scientists had little information about why light therapy is good for the body- other than the fact that UV radiation stimulates the production of vitamin D in the body. However, new research has unveiled some interesting information about just how powerful sunlight can be in reversing many common health problems seen today.

The Science Behind Light Therapy

Dr. Alexander Wunsch, a physician from Germany has made it his lifelong mission to uncover the healing power of light. Dr. Wunsch has conducted several studies and experiments on light therapy to determine what healing properties light could contain. Dr. Wunsch explored the possibility of healing through the near-infrared color spectrum, which includes 40 percent of visible light. Dr. Wunsch explored old medical textbooks from before the era of antibiotics.

In his investigation, Dr. Wunsch found that light therapy was commonly used as a therapy for a variety of health conditions, such as rickets (now known to be caused by a lack of vitamin D) smallpox, lupus, and even tuberculosis.

According to Dr. Wunsch's theory, light is a necessary stimulant for many of the body’s normal systems, perhaps even beyond the basic need for vitamin D.

In an interview with Dr. Mercola, Dr. Wunsch had this to say about the importance of sunlight for the body’s health: …” if your skin is exposed to sunlight, you will experience some invisible changes in your circulatory system.”

Dr. Wunsch reports that many of the body’s systems actually change under light, including the capillaries and even the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Dr. Wunsch believes that it is exposure to sunlight that makes changes in the body such as the demand for extra water in the presence of sunlight. He believes that sunlight has a direct role in controlling the various functions of most of the body’s major organs.

Dr. Wunsch’s theories are not untested. He has conducted multiple studies on the ways that sunlight can benefit the body. In the early 2000s, Dr. Wunsch reviewed several studies on the damaging health effects of a lack of near-infrared light on humans.

In his review, Dr. Wunsch found that a lack of sunlight is found to be a contributing factor in many common health conditions, including breast cancer, endocrine disruption, slow metabolism, and insomnia Other studies, too, have found similar results.

A study from 2014 published in ISRN Dermatology examined the possible benefit of vitamin D for patients with vitiligo. The researchers found mixed results. Some individuals with vitiligo showed significant improvement when their vitamin D levels increased. However, other participants showed no additional improvement from added vitamin D. Over a 12-week period, higher vitamin D levels indicated a gradual increase in pigmentation. The study authors recommended that additional studies for longer periods be conducted on the role of vitamin D in vitiligo to determine if vitamin D levels do contribute to repigmentation.

In Dr. Wunsch’s latest study conducted in 2014 and published in the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, Dr. Wunsch tested the safety and efficacy of red light sources for improving the appearance of the skin. This study found that treated subjects had improved skin complexion and collagen density compared to controls.

There is More to Light that Vitamin D

While previous research has focused mainly on the health benefits of vitamin D, Dr. Wunsch believes that other areas of light may also provide benefits. UVB radiation is the light spectrum required to photosynthesize vitamin D in your skin, but the light from near-infrared light may provide separate benefits.

Research from light specialist Dr. Auguste Rollier in the early 1900s found that targeted light therapy could be extremely beneficial for the health of the body. Research throughout the early 1900s supported his beliefs. It was not until the 1940s that light therapy started to get abandoned in favor of faster-working antibiotics. Additionally, researchers in the 1940s started to connect high levels of sun exposure with damaging health effects like skin cancer.

Because of the danger of too much sun exposure, doctors quickly abandoned the practice of using sunlight as a therapy. However, research from Dr. Rollier uncovered a variety of beneficial effects from different spectrums of light. UVB light stimulates vitamin D production on the skin. Other light spectrums have the potential to affect the body in other ways. Dr. Rollier believed the various light spectrums to have the effects outlined below:

Possible Effects of Various Light Spectrums
  • UVB- vitamin D stimulation and altering DNA structure
  • UVA- produce and photosynthesize reactive oxygen species
  • Near-infrared- metabolic power to cells
  • Red light- metabolic power to cells

How Does Lack of Light Hurt the Body?

Science is just now beginning to explore the possible benefits of all light spectrums. This not only benefits patients with vitiligo but also the general population. For years scientists and health professional have known that a lack of sun exposure could suppress the immune system and cause problems like rickets, but the full benefits of sun exposure have only begun to be explored.

However, researchers have studied what happens when humans do not get enough sun.

No light, artificial light, and light filtered through windows all have damaging effects on the body. The main reason why windows and artificial light have a poor effect on the body is not so much from lack of light, but simply because windows filter out some of the light spectrum and artificial light only produces a small part of the light spectrum, which could increase the risks of sun exposure.

Low vitamin D levels (usually caused by lack of sunlight) can increase the risk for a variety of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, fractures, and even total mortality. According to research by Dr. Wunsch, it could be a lack of combined sunlight rather than simply a lack of vitamin D in the body that increases the risk of health problems. This indicates that supplementation with vitamin D may not be enough to reverse the damage from lack of sunlight and could be why many studies have found that supplementing with vitamin D has less benefit in the body than direct exposure to sunlight.

Improve Your Health with Sunlight

These new studies suggest that sunlight may be extremely beneficial for the body as a whole, but particularly for individuals suffering from autoimmune diseases such as vitiligo. Studies from Cambridge University in 2014 found that about 20 minutes of full sun exposure (noon sun provides the biggest benefits) daily in the summer is enough to maintain healthy vitamin D levels throughout the year. However, the exact amount of vitamin D is controversial, and some doctors recommend much higher levels of sun exposure.

Regardless of how much sun is required, most Americans do not even get 20 minutes of sun exposure a day. Researchers from Cambridge University found that 1 out of 10 adults are lacking in the recommended levels for vitamin D- and many health professionals believe the recommended levels are far below optimal health levels.

  • To counteract the negative effects of a lack of sunlight, take the following steps daily:
  • Open your windows when you are home during the day to allow direct sunlight in.
  • Drive with the windows down in your car.
  • Take a walk outside in the sun daily, exposing your skin by wearing shorts and a tank top or t-shirt.
  • Switch to incandescent bulbs.

According to studies by Dr. Wunsch, incandescent bulbs actually produce a full spectrum of light. He published a research paper in the early 2000s indicating that the removal of incandescent lighting could have a detrimental effect on humans as a whole.

“The incandescent lamp is the only artificial light source with a natural spectrum, with a natural spectral distribution,” Dr. Wunsch stated in an interview.

He believes incandescent bulbs are healthier for both the eyes and the hormonal balance of the body. Studies have indicated that blue light, produced by fluorescent bulbs and electronics, interferes with the body’s circadian rhythms that control the production of hormones.

Near-constant exposure to these lights without the regulation of real sunlight can quickly cause the body to enter a state of constant hormonal imbalance. This can lead to a variety of health problems- including the over-production of stress hormones, a sluggish metabolism, and a compromised immune system.

If you have neglected sun exposure for a long period, slowly work your way back into sun exposure. Dr. Rollier practiced this gradual introduction to sunlight back in the early 1900s. He exposed individuals to sunlight first covered by a sheet with their feet exposed for about five minutes at a time. Over time, he gradually increased the amount of skin exposed to sunlight as well as the time the patient spent in the sun. If you mimic this treatment plan, you will reduce your chances of getting sunburned.

Sunlight Essential for Vitiligo Recovery

Although researchers are just starting to uncover the full healing power of the sun, evidence shows that sunlight exposure has a significantly beneficial effect on vitiligo. Currently, the most effective treatment for vitiligo uses UVB radiation to stimulate pigmentation in patches of vitiligo. Researchers are not sure precisely why sunlight benefits vitiligo, but evidence suggests that the optimal function of the body depends heavily on regular exposure to the full spectrum of light.

In addition to taking supplements to boost the effectiveness of light therapy for vitiligo, recent studies suggest that vitiligo patients should be able to improve their success with full exposure to the entire spectrum of natural sunlight.





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