A study by a group of scientists in Ohio has shown that exposure to light at inappropriate times or light with deficient spectral composition can affect energy metabolism.
A group of scientists are researching how opsins which are light sensing proteins present all over our body and light might one day treat various disorders including obesity, diabetes, infertility, mental disorders among many others.
Born in Kashmir, Dr. Mutahar Andrabi is currently doing research in Lang Lab in Ohio, USA. She said that as the earth rotates on its axis creating night and day, all living organisms adapt to align their physiologies and behavior to this light and dark cycle.
She said, “However, neither the spectral composition nor the duration of light is constant throughout the day or time of the year. Atypical or extra visual opsins help the body prepare for the varied demands of the day and seasons.”
Sunlight or visible light, is made of all the rainbow colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
The research has also shown that the fetal light exposure affects eye development. Their lab has installed NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) with lights that emit specific wavelengths of light, found in sunlight but not in artificial lights mimicking womb-like conditions outside the womb for preterm infants.
“Our lab primarily focuses on the light responsive pathways. Research from our lab has shown that blue light and violet part of the light spectrum are very important during our development. The violet and blue light also regulate key metabolic pathways including thermogenesis. It is the proteins in the body that sense presence and/or absence of light and then align the physiology,” she said.
She further explained that interestingly, the opsins in the deep brain directly sense violet light from the sun and send signals to various parts of the body that regulate key functions of energy and metabolism.
Talking about the importance of natural light, she said that people in Japan have made it mandatory for school kids to spend time in the sunlight.
“They have included this activity in their curriculum. They have observed that the exposure to sunlight has reduced myopia in the children. Our body needs to know about the days and night,” she said.
She said that it has been observed that exposure to artificial light at inappropriate times is the reason for health problems among shift workers and speculates that this may have effect on the onset of puberty among adolescents and teenagers.
She said that people should go out to spend time in the sun to get exposure to natural light.
“During winters, when we receive less sunny days, we feel depressed but as soon as we go to some other place where we get good sunlight, we start feeling better. The exposure to natural light has an impact on the mood of a person as well. This field is still in infancy and we are working on it,” she said.
Dr. Andrabi has worked on Genetics of Bipolar Disorder during her M. Phil. She pursued her PhD from AIIMS, New Delhi in the department of Neuro-Biochemistry and is currently doing her research in Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio, US.