Although previous research has suggested that intense light can lower the risk of heart attacks, a recent study has found the mechanism behind it.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that intense light amplifies a specific gene that bolsters blood vessels and offers protection against heart attacks.
The new study
Scientists discovered that exposed to intense light for one week can “robustly enhance cardio protection” in the experiment on mice. The protection results in a dramatic reduction of cardiac tissue damage after a heart attack.
Humans can also benefit from a similar light exposure strategy, according to the scientists.
This is because of the effects intense light has on the PER2 gene which is expressed in a circadian pattern in the part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms.
By amplifying this gene through light, they found that it protected cardiovascular tissues against low oxygen conditions like myocardial ischemia, caused by reduced oxygen flow to the heart.
However, blind mice cannot get protection, which indicates the need for visual light.
“Giving patients light therapy for a week before surgery could increase cardio protection,” said Tobias Eckle, MD, Ph.D., the senior author of the study and professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
A study in 2012, which was also carried out by Eckle, an associate professor then, found that intense light prevents and treats heart attacks.
“The study suggests that strong light, or even just daylight, might ease the risk of having a heart attack or suffering damage from one. For patients, this could mean that daylight exposure inside of the hospital could reduce the damage that Is caused by a heart attack.” Said Eckle.
The answer was believed to lie in the circadian rhythm, but was not fully proved in 2012. The new study has revealed how light is able to change heart metabolism in humans.
How you can protect your heart
Intense light, including daylight, can help patients lower the risk of heart attack.
Although there isn’t enough evidence on the most effective period and frequency, a week of exposure to sunlight can surely help protect your cardiovascular health.
The exposure under intense light per time is not recommended to be longer than 20 or 30 minutes, and remember to wear sunscreen when exposed to the sun.
According to the study, the key point is the visual sight. This, of course, doesn’t mean you need to look directly at the sun. Just don’t close your eyes.