Health & Light
Let There Be Light
Scientist Shows How Light Affects Health
By ROBERT BOWDEN
Assistant Features Editor
SARASORA – John Nash Ott leans back in a comfortable chair in the den of his posh Gulf-front home on Siesta Key. He is eager to talk about unhealthy light and the sea of radiation we live in. Above him, a full-spectrum custom light he calls an Ott-Lite illuminates his work desk. There is a faint purple glow coming from it, indicating the ultraviolet bulb it contains. To his left, between Ott and his view of the Gulf of Mexico, are floor to ceiling, full-spectrum transmitting plastic window panes. At the other end of the room there’s an oak cabinet, its insides lined with lead. A mirror rests at a slant atop the cabinet, reflecting the image from a television set deep inside.The lead lining, Ott explains, is to prevent TV-emitted radiation from reaching Ott or other viewers. Ott is not satisfied by government assurances that such radiation is harmless. His tests have proven otherwise, he says.
This den, this small glimpse of the Ott home, say much about Ott’s 30-year concern with the health consequences of light and radiation. It is gross understatement to say that he has strong opinions about these subjects. What he has said in three books, numerous scientific papers and more than 4,000 lectures has alarmed many, amused some, and angered more than a few giant American companies.
He is a pioneer photobiologim a self-made scientist with an honorary doctorate and walls of awards. He has served as consultant to private companies and the federal government. He has been dismissed by everyone of them.
John Ott, you must understand, says things they don’t want to hear. He says that “Light is a nutrient much like food, and, like food, the wrong kind can make us ill and the right kind can keep us healthy”. General Electric didn’t want to hear that. The company tells Ott and the public that light serves only a visual function in humans, without health consequences, Ott says his experiments prove otherwise. Now, Ott says GE and other light companies obviously couldn’t embrace his call for full-spectrum lights in homes and offices. To do so, Ott says, would mean tacitly admitting present fluorescent and incandescent lights are less than healthy. Imagine the legal ramifications of that, Ott says.
His position on the hazards of low-level radiation is no less controversial. Years ago, Ott concluded that video display terminals emit radiation that causes blood cells to “clump” in the user. This clumping, he says may cause Alzheimer’s disease. The Food and Drug Administration no longer wanted his services after he announced this finding, after he showed microscopic slides of the clumping (and unclumping when the blood was exposed to sunlight). In fact John Ott has said so many seemingly outrageous things that many dismiss his most important points on light and radiation.
On light: Full-spectrum light is essential for optimal functioning of all living cells plant, animal and human. We need regular sunlight exposure, and furthermore , we should avoid excessive exposure to distorted spectrum light.
On radiation: An environment that deviates from the natural background radiation can damage cells even when the amount of radiation is virtually undetectable.
Support for Ott’s position is growing.
After Ott called light a nutrient in his 1973 book, Health and Light, Dr. Richard Wurtman, professor of endocrinology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in Scientific American that “Light is the second most important environmental input after food in controlling body function”. Now, it seems virtually every new book with a chapter on healthy light recounts John Ott’s experiments and conclusion.
Poor light, by Ott’s definition, is any light deviating from the full-spectrum provided by sunlight. That kind of conclusion, even though based on numerous scientific tests, runs counter to much of today’s standard thinking. Today, the word “harmful” is often attached to “ultraviolet”, as if the two belonged together. To Ott that makes as much sense as attaching “toxic” to “vitamin A”.
“What a pity that lighting for scientific studies often is left to the janitor. On in the morning, off in the evening. Light is far more important than that.”
Ott is particularly concerned with those who advocate screening out the ultraviolet portion. He has stood almost alone for years in saying that we need some ultraviolet exposure, through our eyes and on our unprotected skin. “We need the natural spectrum of light and radiation in the natural proportions”, he asserts. “We evolved under sunlight and fire light-and under such light we achieve optimum health”.
“Yes”, he agrees wearily, “ultraviolet in overdose amounts can cause harm. But oxygen in overdose amounts can blind a baby. Too much heat can kill. Vitamin A is indeed toxic at certain levels, but essential in moderate amounts”. The same is true for ultraviolet, Ott argues.
At 78, the man is his own best advertisement. He stands more than 6-feet tall and is trim and fit. He moves rapidly with grace and ease. His hazel eyes are clear, his hair white, and his skin has a uniform tan (he spends an hour in the shade each afternoon). He categorically rejects using sunscreens for the same reason he would not wear standard sunglasses: “Both distort the natural spectrum, with unpredictable long-term consequences”, he says. His sunglasses and the eyeglasses he uses only for reading are composed of special full-spectrum plastic lenses.
He doesn’t smoke. Doesn’t drink. Doesn’t take vitamins. He’s a believer in moderation – a balanced diet, twice-daily exercise, natural sunlight; always, natural, full-spectrum sunlight. It is difficult to believe he was once a sickly banker.
Hobby Changed Life
His hobby interest in something called time-lapse photography changed his career and life. Frame by meticulous frame, he would photograph a flower opening. And when the frames of film were projected at normal speed, the flower seemed to burst into bloom, You’ve probably seen his work- His flowers and plants danced on the screen in several Walt Disney nature movies. But while doing time-lapse studies, Ott began to notice that the quality of light affected the plants. Sometimes his star plants didn’t do what should come naturally. They froze up, drooped or refused to flower. Through a great deal of experimentation, Ott found the lights were to blame. He quit banking. His curiosity about light was piqued, and he needed time to explore its relationship to the health of plants, animals and humans.
As the foremost time-lapse photographer in America, Ott possessed a skill other researchers lacked. By combining his cameras with microscopes, he could study cellular activity in a new way. By taking a single picture at regular intervals, and then running those pictures together at normal film projection speed, formerly imperceptible changes that take place slowly over time became easily visible. And that’s when the revelations began.
When he added various color filters to the light, cells under the microscope reacted differently. Red would cause one reaction; blue another; yellow another. All of the reactions were negative. When he added ultraviolet in large amounts, the cells died. But in moderate amounts, the cells performed best. He began forming theories.
Basic to his theories is the idea that human and animal cells have a process similar to plant photosynthesis. Ott calls this process “biological combustion”. It means cells in our bodies convert light energy to chemical energy much as plants do. It means just as the wrong light can wilt plants, the wrong light can stress people. “It seems obvious”, Ott says, “that if the characteristics of the source of the energy are altered, the end results or the chemistry of the cell will also be altered.”