AMA: Health implications of light at night 'serious'

June 21, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- The American Medical Association is acknowledging the growing evidence of health problems associated with exposure to artificial light, and is taking action that could lead to more government funding of research in this area.

The AMA’s House of Delegates has voted to accept the recommendations of a report from the AMA Council on Science and Public , which address changes in lighting technologies and usage, recognition of the impact on sleep and sleep disorders, and further study of the possible link between light at night and cancer risk, obesity, and exacerbation of chronic diseases such as diabetes.

“It is a recognition by a major health body, the American Medical Association, that this is an emerging environmental issue that has a potentially large impact on the health of society,” says cancer epidemiologist Richard Stevens, professor in the UConn School of Medicine Department of Community Medicine and Health Care. “Based on an accumulation of evidence, this august body is now making the statement: ‘We take this seriously, and the public should take it seriously too.’”

The adoption of the council report’s recommendations by the AMA has the potential to influence federal grant money to study the health impact of artificial light at night.

Stevens was heavily involved in the writing of the report, titled “Light Pollution: Adverse Health Effects of Nighttime Lighting.” He is lead or co-author of nine of the research papers cited.

In scientific circles Stevens is widely credited with being the first to articulate the hypothesis that the increasing use of artificial light at night may be related to the high risk in the industrialized world. His research in that topic goes back 25 years.

“There’s no question that this light at night changes our physiology in the short term,” Stevens says. “We know that artificial light disrupts circadian rhythms. We’re learning more and more about the specifics of what that means. The clearest evidence is about the hormone melatonin. We’re lowering it, we’re even suppressing it completely, depending on the amount of light.”

Melatonin has been shown to inhibit breast cancer in laboratory rats. Stevens is careful to say that the changes in human physiology from artificial light, circadian disruption and melatonin suppression have not been proven to cause breast cancer. Instead he offers a judicial analogy:

“It’s guilty in a civil trial, but no verdict in a criminal trial. A reasonable jury would say there is a preponderance of evidence, but it’s not beyond a reasonable doubt at this point.”

Five years ago, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization declared night shift work as a “probable carcinogen.” Stevens was on the panel of scientists that made that determination.

Explore further: Night shift might boost women's breast cancer risk: study

Related Stories

Night shift might boost women's breast cancer risk: study

May 29, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Women who work the night shift more than twice a week might be increasing their risk for breast cancer, Danish researchers find.

Excess weight in young adulthood predicts shorter lifespan

August 17, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Those 25-year-olds who are overweight now but think they will be fine as long as they lose weight eventually might need to reconsider. A study appearing online in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds ...

Recommended for you

Could a green sponge hold cancer-fighting secrets?

July 27, 2017
A small green sponge discovered in dark, icy waters of the Pacific off Alaska could be the first effective weapon against pancreatic cancer, researchers said on Wednesday.

Stem cell therapy attacks cancer by targeting unique tissue stiffness

July 26, 2017
A stem cell-based method created by University of California, Irvine scientists can selectively target and kill cancerous tissue while preventing some of the toxic side effects of chemotherapy by treating the disease in a ...

Understanding cell segregation mechanisms that help prevent cancer spread

July 26, 2017
Scientists have uncovered how cells are kept in the right place as the body develops, which may shed light on what causes invasive cancer cells to migrate.

Study uncovers potential 'silver bullet' for preventing and treating colon cancer

July 26, 2017
In preclinical experiments, researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center have uncovered a new way in which colon cancer develops, as well as a potential "silver bullet" for preventing and treating it. The findings may extend to ...

Compound shows promise in treating melanoma

July 26, 2017
While past attempts to treat melanoma failed to meet expectations, an international team of researchers are hopeful that a compound they tested on both mice and on human cells in a petri dish takes a positive step toward ...

Study may explain failure of retinoic acid trials against breast cancer

July 25, 2017
Estrogen-positive breast cancers are often treated with anti-estrogen therapies. But about half of these cancers contain a subpopulation of cells marked by the protein cytokeratin 5 (CK5), which resists treatment—and breast ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.