With high-fat foods and a general lack of exercise, more and more people are likely to suffer a heart attack in the United States. Of course keeping a better diet and even a moderate amount of exercise can keep us healthy, but if a heart attack still occurs, what can be done to minimize damage? According to researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver, the patient can be exposed to sunlight, or other intense light sources, to keep the damage as minimal as possible.
What does sunlight have to do with heart attacks? Nothing directly, but with a trip through the circadian rhythm, it has a lot to do with the heart. The circadian rhythm is a link between the body and time of day. Certain processes occur only when the sun is out and others only at night. The researchers discovered that one of the proteins activated by sunlight, called Period 2, is crucial to minimizing the damage of a heart attack. During the attack, the heart stops receiving oxygen, which it normally uses for fuel. To survive, the heart transfers over to using glucose for fuel, and the faster this happens, the less damage there will be. Period 2 is needed for this change to happen and so because sunlight activates the protein, it can save the heart, and the patient, during a heart attack.
The next steps in this research will be to better understand the link between light and heart metabolism, as well as determining how light may be best used to treat patients. For example, how much light is needed and can light from bulbs work in place of sunlight.