Why Researchers Say Natural Light Is Important For Diabetes Prevention & Management
Over 37 million adults in the U.S. are living with diabetes, and that number is only expected to grow, making preventive approaches to managing blood sugar paramount for all of us.
Beyond the food we eat, what else can be done to prevent diabetes? And if you already have it, how can you better manage it? According to new research presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, natural light could play a role—here's what to know.
The connection between circadian rhythm and metabolic function
For this study, researchers wanted to look at the connection between natural light, the circadian rhythm, and metabolic function. To do so, they conducted a small study of older participants with Type 2 diabetes (average age was 70 years old), in which participants stayed in a research facility where light exposure, meals, and activity patterns were controlled.
For part of the study, they were exposed to artificial LED lighting, and in the other, natural daylight. In both lighting settings, the researchers looked at things like blood sugar levels, insulin production, body temperature, respiratory exchange ratio (which reveals whether fat or carbs are being used for energy), and more.
And based on the findings, it would appear that natural light reigns supreme when it comes to preventing diabetes. Namely, blood glucose levels were within the normal range for longer on days spent with natural light, compared to artificial lighting. Further, natural light saw a lower respiratory exchange rate in participants, meaning it was easier for the participants to burn carbs and fat for energy.
Of course, considering natural light is one of the best things you can get to regulate your circadian rhythm, the authors also note that the genes that control circadian rhythm were more active in natural light conditions than artificial ones.
The respiratory exchange ratio was lower during the daylight intervention than during the artificial light intervention, indicating that the participants found it easier to switch from using carbohydrate to fat as an energy source when exposed to natural light.
What to do about it
According to study co-author and Ph.D. candidate Ivo Habets, these findings suggest that exposure to natural light is not only beneficial to your metabolic health but could even help with the treatment and prevention of Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic conditions.
"The type of light you are exposed to matters for your metabolism. If you work in an office in almost no exposure to natural light, it will have an impact on your metabolism and your risk or control of Type 2 diabetes," Habets explains in a news release, adding, "So try to get as much daylight as possible, and ideally, get outdoors when you can."
While the researchers note that more research is needed to figure out just how much natural light we need to compensate for all the time spent in artificial lighting, opening up the blinds—or better, getting outside—is a pretty simple ask. Not only can it help keep your circadian rhythm regulated, but according to this research, it could just help prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.