Exposure to outdoor light at night can increase breast cancer risk, claim researchers

Women who reside in areas with plenty of outdoor lighting at night may want to reconsider their living situation. The researchers behind a recent Harvard study uncovered a link between higher levels of nighttime outdoor lighting and increased risk of breast cancer, reported the DailyMail.co.uk.

“In our modern industrialized society, artificial lighting is nearly ubiquitous. Our results suggest that this widespread exposure to outdoor lights during nighttime hours could represent a novel risk factor for breast cancer,” said Peter James, lead author and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

For the purposes of their study, the researchers examined data from almost 110,000 women who were enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II between the years 1989 and 2013. They then linked satellite images of the Earth at night to the residential addresses of each participant. The researchers made sure to take into consideration factors such as the socioeconomic standing and health of the participants, as well as night-shift work.

The results, which have been published on Environmental Health Perspectives, revealed that women who were exposed to the highest levels of outdoor light at night had a 14 percent greater risk of developing the disease when compared to women who had the lowest levels of outdoor light. Moreover, the likelihood of breast cancer was stronger among women who worked the night shift. This suggests that night-shift work and outdoor light nighttime exposure contributed jointly to the risk.

However, the association was only present among pre-menopausal women and women who were current or past smokers. The exact mechanisms behind this are still unknown, and the researchers acknowledged that further work is required.

The proposed explanation behind this lay in the production of melatonin. This hormone helps control sleep and wake cycles, and is influenced by the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. Light can affect melatonin production: Light at night can decrease melatonin levels, while darkness boosts it. Even artificial light can cause melatonin levels to dip. Age is another factor that affects the production of this vital hormone. In the study, the researchers noted that lower melatonin levels have been found to heighten the chances of breast cancer. (Related: Melatonin could help prevent growth of breast cancer tumors.)

Boosting melatonin production the natural way

Fortunately, there are simple and natural means of increasing melatonin levels that anyone can do. These include:

  • Turning off all LED lights – LED lights give off a moderate amount of blue light, which have been shown to block melatonin levels. Cellphones, televisions, and laptop screens all produce blue light, so place these away from your bed to decrease your exposure to blue light. If that isn’t possible, then cover these up.
  • Eat more melatonin-rich or melatonin-promoting foods  Certain foods can positively impact melatonin production, like pineapples, bananas, oranges, sweet corn, barley, and mangosteen. Tart cherries have a notable amount of melatonin in them, as does tart cherry juice.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake – While caffeine is a stimulant, alcohol is a suppressant. Both of these beverages can reduce melatonin levels and should be consumed in limited amounts.

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