Heliotherapy

5 mins read

Over the years, alternative medicine has grown by leaps and bounds, healing mankind of many lifestyle and chronic ailments. Heliotherapy is one of the methods that involve the healing of diseases by exposure to light. The different kinds of lights used to treat ailments via this therapy are daylight, polychromatic polarized wavelengths of light, laser lights, fluorescent lights and full spectrum lights.

Origin of Heliotherapy or Phototherapy
The actual origin of light or heliotherapy dates back to nearly 1500 BC, and was said to be actively practiced by ancient civilizations of Greece, Egypt, Rome, Inca and Germany. Some of these human races worshipped Sun God as the supreme deity of health and well-being. Ancient Indian communities were known to combine herbs and sunlight to heal many skin related illnesses. Some of the Buddhist, as well as Chinese texts of 10th century, also point to the efficiency of light therapy.

Niels Finsen, a Faroese doctor, is called the Father of Modern Phototherapy. He was accredited with the invention of first artificial light source for healing purposes. His first successful attempt with light therapy happened when he cured a skin disease called lupus vulgaris caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis effectively. Later on, he also cured lesions caused by smallpox with the use of ultraviolet light. Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 in the field of medicine.

Benefits of Heliotherapy/Phototherapy
Below are some of the conditions that can be cured with the help of heliotherapy:

  • Psoriasis
  • Vitiligo
  • Cancer
  • Acne Vulgaris
  • Eczema
  • Lichen Planus
  • Wound healing
  • Sleep disorders
  • Postpartum depression
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD)
  • Advanced sleep phase disorder
  • Neonatal jaundice

Studies related to the efficacy of heliotherapy

  • Mayo clinic had recently stated that light therapy is proven effectively to treat conditions related to depression and sleep disorders. The results of the treatment were at par with the use of anti-depressants with an added advantage of zero side effects.
  • Controlled environment exposed to direct sunlight coming from windows showed effectiveness for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. The sunlight was regulated with a computerized mirror device known as heliostat.
  • A study by Cochrane Collaboration has confirmed the study stating that heliotherapy offers modest anti-depressive healing to the patients suffering from non-seasonal depression.
  • In the usage of devices for light therapy, FDA had approved the use of select devices that are available in the market. These include Excimer laser, Theralight, BClear, Psorialight LED, etc.

How is heliotherapy performed?
Since the therapy involves using lights of different types and wave lights depending on the ailment, heliotherapy is done via different methods. Below are the most known methods:

  • UVB phototherapy is used for healing psoriasis
  • Narrowband UVB phototherapy is used for curing vitiligo
  • UV Blood irradiation treatment is said to be applied on patients with skin cancer.
  • Skin conditions like eczema, atopic dermatitis and eruptions are cured with narrowband UVB lamps
  • Light boxes are extensively used to heal the subjects ailing from SAD
  • Neonatal jaundice in babies is cured using a bili light

Popular techniques used in heliotherapy
Below are some of the commonly used devices to heal with phototherapy:

  • Light Boxes – A specific box designed to advocate therapy emitting as much as 10,000 Lux of light
  • Photodynamic Therapy – This therapy involves the use of non-toxic light sensitive compounds which become toxic when exposed to light. They are then used to treat malignant disease cells in a subject.

How can you get started with heliotherapy?
If you suffer from any of the ailments stated above or other physical conditions that can possibly be cured with light therapy, a detailed case analysis has to be done by a skilled practitioner who will work your health profile. The treatment is then commenced based on the specific condition or a set of ailments. Ensure that you seek therapy from an experienced professional.

Risks, Contraindications, Precautions
Since the light therapy involves the use of ultraviolet rays, many debates have occurred over years, questioning the safety of its practice. Some of the risks and contraindications have been listed as below:

  • UV light exposed on human skin can cause a gradual damage, destroying free radicals and vitamins like A and C.
  • Bright light therapy is said to trigger the production of reproductive hormones like testosterone, estradiol and follicle stimulating hormone.
  • Patients with phototoxicity are not recommended to undergo light therapy
  • Patients suffering from ailments like porphyria are advised to avoid this therapy
  • Patients using drugs like chloroquine and methotrexate should report the same before undergoing heliotherapy

Side Effects of Heliotherapy
Some of the side effects stated by patients exposed to light therapy for sleep-related disorders are as follow:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Jitters
  • Poor vision
  • Rashes on the skin

Most of the side effects tend to go away gradually.

Citations:

Krzyścin JW, Jarosławski J, Rajewska-Więch B, Sobolewski PS, Narbutt J, Lesiak A, Pawlaczyk M.

J Photochem Photobiol B. Effectiveness of heliotherapy for psoriasis clearance in low and mid-latitudinal regions: a theoretical approach. 2012 Oct 3;115:35-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2012.06.008. Epub 2012 Jun 28.PMID:22819260

Krzyścin JW, Narbutt J, Lesiak A, Jarosławski J, Sobolewski PS, Rajewska-Więch B, Szkop A, Wink J, Czerwińska A.J Photochem Photobiol B. Perspectives of the antipsoriatic heliotherapy in Poland.

2014 Aug 1;140C:111-119. doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2014.07.017. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:25116946

Vähävihu K, Ylianttila L, Salmelin R, Lamberg-Allardt C, Viljakainen H, Tuohimaa P, Reunala T, Snellman E. Br J Dermatol. Heliotherapy improves vitamin D balance and atopic dermatitis.

2008 Jun;158(6):1323-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08518.x. Epub 2008 Mar 20.

PMID:18363748

Harrison S, Hutton L, Nowak M. An investigation of professional advice advocating therapeutic sun exposure. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2002 Apr;26(2):108-15. PMID:12054327

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