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The Best Years in Life
Full-Spectrum Sunlight and Cancer
by Barry Groves
Some time ago, my friend Wayne Martin sent me a book by John Nash Ott. Entitled Health & Light: the effects of natural & artificial light on man & other living things, it is without doubt the most fascinating book I have ever read (and I have read quite a few).
John Ott DSc, was a pioneer in time-lapse photography in the middle of the twentieth century. Many of the Disney films, in which we see plants growing and flowers opening were made by Ott. To enable him to take photographs of plants at a rate of one every few minutes, hours or days, Ott had to stop the plants from being blown about by the wind or otherwise disturbed. So he put his subjects in glasshouses. He found, when he did this, however, that they did not behave as they had outside.
So Ott began to conduct experiments changing the lighting conditions, the temperature and humidity in an attempt to isolate the cause of the problems. To cut a long story short, what he found was that, where the glass cut out the long-wave ultraviolet (UV) spectrum of the sun's light, this had sometimes severely detrimental effects on the plants.
Ott began giving talks based on his experiences. One TV appearance brought a letter from a Chicago biology teacher who was doing research on fish eggs and wanted time-lapse photography to help his experiment. Ott was happy to oblige. The aquariums were not near a window, so Ott used 40 watt fluorescent tubes with three different lights - pink, cool white and daylight white - to light his subject. The fish stopped laying.
Ott wondered if the light was affecting the fish. He gradually reduced the intensity and then the duration of the light. When only on for eight hours a day the fish started laying again. But when the newly hatched fish were old enough that their sex could be determined, an astonishing and almost unbelievable fact emerged: all fifty fish - from different parents - hatched under the pink light were female; there were no exceptions.
Word reached the newspapers. As a result a woman breeding chinchillas wrote to Ott of her problem. When breeding chinchillas, it is important to have many more females than males, for one male can fertilise many females. The woman's problem was that she had a preponderance of male births with very few females. She wondered if Ott could help.
The chinchillas were kept in a basement playroom with only a small window at one end and a 75 watt tungsten bulb for light. Ott bought two 100 watt daylight incandescent bulbs and sent them to her. Two months later the woman wrote to Ott to tell him that the first litter born under the new lights had produced three females.
There was one experiment Ott hadn't planned, but which had a dramatic effect on his thinking. This happened early in his career when Ott dropped and broke his prescription glasses - and all symptoms of his arthritis disappeared. From this, Ott considered that the full spectrum light's effect happened not from its impact on the skin, but through the eyes.
Health & Light continues with many more experiments on plants, animals and, lastly, humans. Ott discusses experiments which showed that sunlight absorbed through the eyes had dramatic effects on the pineal gland. It is these which are of the greatest significance as far as cancer is concerned.
Our irrational fear
Ott made a valid point when wrote in his last book, Light, Radiation and You: How to Stay Healthy, "Mankind adapted to the full range of the solar spectrum, and artificial distortions of that spectrum - malillumination, a condition analogous to malnutrition - may have biologic effects". (1) In an interview published in 1991, he noted: "There are neurochemical channels from the retina to the pineal and pituitary glands, the master glands of the whole endocrine system that controls the production and release of hormones. This regulates your body chemistry and its growth, all organs of your body, including your brain, and how they function". (2)
Nature designed us so that the tanning pigment, melanin, in our skin was the right shade to protect us from the sunlight: black in equatorial regions, gradually getting lighter in colour as we get further from the equator and the strength of the sun diminishes. Our skin is designed specifically for the latitude at which we have evolved.
The same is true of our eyes - the different colour irises are the most obvious feature. Again they are black at the equator and pale blue in Scandinavia. In other words, we do not need the 'protection' afforded by sunglasses, we need the sunlight that we have evolved in.
So why are we so afraid of the sun?
There are three distinct bands of UV light: UVA, UVB and UVC. Excessive exposure to just one of them, UVC, the shortest wavelength, is known to damage living tissue. It is this wavelength that is used to kill bacteria. In a laboratory experiment, anaesthetised animals, had their eyes held open and intense UV light was shone into them, damaging their retinas. That's it! On the strength of this, authorities conclude that we should avoid all UV.
But while UVC is found in tanning salons and halogen lamps, (3) very little is present in sunlight (see sunlight.html). In fact, we need the trace amounts of UV radiation in natural daylight for physical and mental health, civilised behaviour, muscle strength, energy and learning. (4)
Full-spectrum sunlight and cancer
Despite what we are led to believe about sunlight, cancers don't seem to survive for long in it. In one experiment, a tumour-susceptible strain of mice lived more than twice as long under full-spectrum light as they did under standard lighting, and rats exposed to full-spectrum light had significantly lessened tumour development. (5) Six major medical centres confirmed these findings. (6)
Dr. Jane C. Wright, directing cancer research at Bellevue Memorial Medical Center in New York City in 1959, was fascinated by Ott's ideas. Advised by Ott, Dr. Wright instructed fifteen cancer patients to stay outdoors as much as possible that summer in natural sunlight without wearing their glasses, and particularly without sunglasses. By that Autumn, the tumours in 14 of 15 had not grown, and some patients had got better. Ott wondered why the fifteenth had not benefited. He discovered that this woman had not fully understood the instructions - while she had not worn sunglasses, she had continued to wear her prescription glasses. This blocking of UV into her eyes was enough to stop the benefits enjoyed by the other fourteen. (7)
UV benefits leukemia ...
In 1961, with five times the national average incidence, an elementary school in Niles, Illinois, was found to have the highest rate of leukemia of any school in the USA. Because of the intense glare from the sun, in the newly-constructed building in which glass had been used extensively, the teachers in two of the classrooms kept the blinds drawn and the children were exposed all day only to 'warm-white' fluorescent light. All of the children with leukemia were being taught in these two classrooms. After several years of keeping the blinds drawn and the fluorescent lights on, the teachers in these two classrooms left and were replaced with teachers who preferred to let the sunlight in. At the same time, the warm-white fluorescents were replaced with cool-white lights. From 1964, the time of Ott's last visit, there were no further cases of leukemia reported in that school. (8)
... and other cancers
After one of his lectures, Ott sat next to the daughter of the late Dr. Albert Schweizer at dinner. They talked mainly about her experiences as assistant to her father at Lambarene, Gabon, on the West Coast of Africa. Ott asked her about the rate of cancer in the people of that area. She replied that, when her father had first started hospital, they found no cancer at all but now it was a problem. Ott asked her if the people living there had started installing glass windows and electric lights. She said they had not.
Ott then asked her jokingly if any of the natives wore sunglasses. She looked startled and told Ott that the natives paddling their dugout canoes down the river in front of the hospital often wore no more than a loincloth and sunglasses; indeed some wore only sunglasses. She explained that sunglasses represented a status symbol of civilisation and education and had a higher bartering value than beads and other such trinkets.
In another case, Ott learned from an elderly acquaintance that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the prostate and surgery had been recommended. Ott found that for many years this man had been wearing eyeglasses with a light pink tint and was able to persuade him to stop wearing those and get full spectrum, ultraviolet transmitting spectacles. Ott also advised him to cut down watching television and spend more time outdoors. At the time of writing his book, Ott reports that the man has gone three years without surgery and with no symptoms of his prostate cancer
A doctor, interested in Ott's research told him of a close friend of his who had been diagnosed as having a fast spreading terminal cancer. Life expectancy was only estimated to be four months at best. Although the doctor could not see how installing fluorescent tubes with added ultraviolet in the man's hospital room could do any good, he didn't see any harm in trying. Accordingly Ott helped to install the fluorescent tubes in the patient room and also install some in his room at home. This man lived a further 10 months, was remarkably active and free of pain during this time.
Yet another man had been troubled with skin cancer and on several occasions had undergone minor surgery. He was having considerable difficulty and his doctor had recommended more surgery. On his own initiative he decided to try ultraviolet therapy and to avoid watching television. His skin cancers began to disappear immediately, and within for five months his skin appeared perfectly normal without surgery or other treatment.
Lastly, in another incidence, several cancer patients ventured out on a fishing expedition with Norwegian fishermen. All but one of them stayed inside the ship but one woman stayed on deck. She recovered; her fellow patients died of their cancers. (9)
Ott has been criticised for making no scientifically controlled human studies to support his statements. This criticism is unjustified: Ott applied many times for funds to conduct studies, but even with the backing of leading oncologists, he was continually refused them. (10) Similarly, funding for continuation of Dr. Jane Wright's study above was withdrawn. It may sound cynical, but one has to be realistic - who can make money promoting sunlight?
Because of the lack of clinical studies, all the above cases are regarded as being merely anecdotal. However, there are so many examples of the benefits of ultraviolet light through the eyes, that we would be foolish to disregard them. Our irrational fear of ultraviolet light may well do us far more harm than good.
Under these circumstances, it might be a good idea to wear prescription glasses made of material that does not cut out ultraviolet light, and wear sunglasses which have a neutral grey shade to reduce the amount of light across the whole spectrum equally.
Note: the sign UV400 on sunglasses means that they cut out all wavelengths shorter than 400 nm, but for our health we really need to allow UV down to 315 nm.
The above article is part of “The Cancer Files” provided by Barry Groves, a cancer victor himself, at www.second-opinions.co.uk/cancer_index.html