Gods, Light, and Solariums
Throughout human history, the consistent connections of ‘light’ and ‘healing’ can't be ignored.
Ancient Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of light in health, and how this invisible flow of energy powers our body.
The Egyptian goddess of healing, Sekhmet, is the daughter of the Sun God, Ra.
The Greek & Roman God of Healing, Apollo, is more famously the God of Light.
The son of Apollo, Asclepius, is the greek god of treatment. In fact, even today, the ‘Rod of Asclepius’ is a universally recognized symbol of medicine.
These connections did not just exist in mythology and literature, they were born of the observable ability of light to heal bodies. If you were to visit a Roman hospital 2000 years ago you’d be met with an intriguing sight:
Huge panels of red glass, filtering sunlight, streaming into hospitals and healing patients suffering from ‘diseases of withering’. The ancients called these specialized rooms Solariums.
Today we recognize Solariums as civilization’s first implementation of Photomedicine.
Niels Ryberg Finsen
The Father of Phototherapy
He continued to demonstrate groundbreaking healing effects of phototherapy, proving that light therapy could be used to cure Smallpox, Lupus, and by logical extension, hundreds of other ‘diseases of civilization’. His work rattled the medical world, rightfully earning him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1903 for “opening a new avenue of medical science."
Tragically, Finsen died shortly after winning the Nobel Prize and his crucial discovery of light as a medicine fell into darkness.
In the last few years of his life, Finsen was committed to making light therapy accessible to every human being, not just for curing diseases, but as a requirement for daily health.
He writes; “Nevertheless, I believe implicitly that in the future use will be made of this new therapeutic agent [Light], and the proof experiment once made, it will be easy to carry it out practically under the form of Light Baths; and lastly, to determine whether they are to be blue, violet, or red, the variations in their strength and duration, and whether natural or artificial.” - Finsen, Phototherapy, 1896
Now, 125 years later, we are picking up where the Father of Photomedicine left off. Making light bathing accessible to every human being in the world.
NASA & Phototherapy
A New Frontier of Medicine
NASA accidentally rediscovers phototherapy while exploring plant growth in deep space.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, began experimenting with Light emitting diodes, LEDs, to grow plants in space. To the delight of the astronauts, they found the plants readily grew with the energy from these small ‘artificial suns’, even in space.
But what was more remarkable was what happened to the astronauts themselves. They reported a surprising improvement in bone mass, atrophied muscles, and wound healing; symptoms that commonly plague humans in a zero-gravity environment. A press release followed; “NASA scientists have found that cells exposed to near-infrared light from LEDs, which is energy just outside the visible range, grow 150 to 200 percent faster than cells not stimulated by such light.”
This ‘new’ finding kicked-off the modern era of photomedicine, using light to heal and improve bodies. However, LEDs in this era of technology were extremely expensive and inefficient. As a result, photomedicine was reserved for hospitals, medical practices, and research institutions.
It would take several more decades before LED light therapy would be available to the masses.