There’s no question that modern technology has improved our lives.
If wasn’t for the Internet and your electronic device we would not be connected right now. Of course, there’s also inaccurate content online that can misguide us. And that’s not good.
Another aspect of technology that is imperfect and can cause health problems is excess exposure to the type of light coming out of your technological devices.
A recently published study associates nighttime exposure to blue light with an increased risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer.
Study details on Blue light connection with Prostate & Breast Cancer:
- Evaluating the Association between Artificial Light-at-Night Exposure and Breast and Prostate Cancer Risk in Spain” was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on April 23.
- About 4,000 men and women were studied in Spain.
- All the participants were enrolled in 2008–2013 and were between 20 and 85 years of age.
- According to results for both the cities, those exposed to higher levels of blue light had a 1.5 times higher risk of developing breast cancer and a two times higher of developing prostate cancer when compared to the less-exposed population.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light is a form of visible light we get from smartphones, computers, televisions, and lights. Anyone using modern devices is exposed to blue light. Other forms of light include, yellow, red, purple, etc. and each is labeled based on their wavelength.
Exposure to blue light during the day is not a problem and improves alertness, but reading from your smartphone, for example, at night, as many of us do, can contribute to health problems and interfere with quality sleep.
Simply, we have a circadian rhythm in our bodies that is regulated by our exposure to light (also regulated by when we eat).
Naturally, when our eyes are exposed to light, we create hormones and chemicals than we do a night when there should be more darkness. The main hormone that helps us sleep and restore at night, only in darkness is melatonin. If there is blue exposure at night, say, working late night on your computer, melatonin is shut off.
The Association between night workers and Prostate cancer (CaP)
While I am empathic to prostate cancer patients who work the night shifts, ironically also known as graveyard shift, I strongly prescribe them to change their work hours to daytime.
In over 2.5 million individuals studied from this meta-analysis, a significantly increased risk of prostate cancer was associated. The reason for such a strong association may be due to the inability for the body to release melatonin when eyes are exposed to light at night.
A prospective study of over 900 men in Iceland who did not have CaP and measured first-morning void urinary levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (6-STM), a melatonin metabolite. During the study period, about one-hundred men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, including 24 with advanced disease. Men with low morning 6-STM levels had a 4-fold increased risk for advanced prostate cancer compared with men with levels above average. The average follow-up time from urine collection to CaP diagnosis was 2.3 years.
Researchers from another older but relevant study observed less CaP in men with higher nighttime melatonin secretion with longer sleep duration.
While I clinically don’t see nearly as much breast cancer patients as I do men with prostate cancer, the breast cancer research is appealing because it is known for the two cancers to be “cousins.” In other words, both breast and prostate cancer are formed and progress in similar ways.
Also, the nutrition habits and lifestyle behaviors that work for one works for the other
A study looking at 13 studies noticed a with a significant increase of breast cancer risk among nighttime female workers, mostly airplane workers and another showed a link between light exposure at night and breast cancer among nurses who worked night shifts.
What is Melatonin and how it works?
Melatonin is a hormone released from an area in the middle of your brain called the pineal gland only when the eyes detect no light. In other words, the darker the environment, the more melatonin produced. This super hormone has many protective qualities including protection against cancer development through several pathways, including antioxidation, stops excess replication of cells (apoptosis), interfering with new blood vessels in cancer cells (anti-angiogenesis), and the strengthening of the immune system.
Changes associated with shift work, including sleep disruption, circadian disruption also causes melatonin disruption. There is plenty of evidence in animal and human models to suggest the carcinogenicity of artificial light during the night, which causes circadian, sleep, and melatonin disruption.
In prostate and other cancers, shift work shows an increased the risk of diagnosis among pilots and airline occupations, in support of a potential effect of circadian and melatonin disruption.
My Take and Suggestions on the Link between blue light exposure and Prostate cancer
I tell my teenage kids all the time, “you have to control your phone. Your phone can’t control you.” That might be good advice for adults to practice as well. Come to think of it, I often suggest to them things I need to improve on. Hmmm.
About three months ago I turned off all notifications and alerts from my phone.
Now, I don’t get instant notices of the news or updates in sports. And I am much happier and more productive. You’d be surprised how much time you have when you are less distracted with things that are less important.
The grand majority of time should be spent improving your health, taking care of your business and finances, improving relationships with people you love, and connecting spiritually with God, the universe or nature (some would say it is all the same but I’m no expert here.)
The other deleterious habit I discontinued was reading from my iPad or smartphone at night. As a dad, I know the use of electronic gadgets at night is contributing to poor quality sleep in kids causing them disruption in school and likely the cause of excess diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Kids need to sleep for better cognition, productivity and lowering the risk of disease. And so do we.
Data shows subjects reading light-emitting devices (e.g., eBook) before sleeping compared with a printed book, took longer to fall asleep, had reduced evening sleepiness, reduced melatonin secretion, later timing of their circadian clock, and reduced next-morning alertness.
I firmly believe that prostate cancer prevention and management is successfully improved by better lifestyle, nutritional and behavioral habits. And there is plenty of scientific evidence to prove it.
By improving lifestyle, nutritional and behavioral habits, one can optimally live longer – even if after a prostate cancer diagnosis.
Here are suggestions to improve your health with managing blue light exposure:
- Sleep in a completely dark room. If there is fear of falling when going to the bathroom at night, place a small night light far from your bed.
- Resist the urge of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). We are easily hooked to our gadget with the FOMO. I recently learned I don’t need to know the score of my New York favorite teams in real time anymore.
- Get into the habit of leaving your smartphone far away from your bed. Control your FOMO.
- If your work hours are late nights, do your best to change your schedule to daytime hours.
- If working nights is what you have to do, consider taking melatonin supplement before going to sleep. About 3mg is good a day, before bedtime is goo.
- If sleep is poor and you have cancer, you may benefit from 20mg of melatonin, but best to see an integrative, functional or naturopathic medicine doctor when increasing the dose of melatonin.
- Give yourself one to two hours of technological shut off time before bedtime. If poor sleep is an issue, consider two to three hours of no blue light before bedtime.