Postmodernism is a political ideology that developed in the late 20th century. It’s characterized by subjectivism and relativism and deconstructs Enlightenment concepts of reason, objectivity and merit. The root idea is that “everything is a […]
In 2016, 59% of Americans who have ever used cigarettes quit smoking — an increase from 50.8% in 2005. The statistics are encouraging, showing declines in overall cigarette smoking among U.S. adults during that time, but nearly 38 million Americans still smoke every day or “some” days.1
Nearly 7 in 10 current smokers say they want to quit completely, and most former smokers did so without the use of scientifically backed smoking cessation methods.2 That being said, programs that deliver treatments using cellphones have been proven to be effective for helping smokers quit,3 and apps that harness the use of mindfulness may be particularly effective by leading to changes in your brain.
Mindfulness-Based App Helps Smokers Quit by Changing the Brain
Researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island, previously determined that mindfulness training (MT) reduces activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) area of the brain. In smokers, the PCC is activated in response to smoking cues. They reasoned that use of a mindfulness app may therefore help to reduce activity in the PCC in response to smoking cues, helping smokers to quit.
Their reasoning was indeed confirmed, following a four-week study that involved 33 participants who used the mindfulness-based app and 34 participants who used another smoking-cessation app offered by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).4
Those who used the mindfulness app had a reduction in self-reported daily cigarette consumption by an average of 11 cigarettes per day, researchers said in a press release.5 Those using the other app reduced cigarette consumption by an average of nine cigarettes per day.
There was also an association between the number of modules completed in the mindfulness app and the number of cigarettes given up per day; this association wasn’t seen with the NCI app.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to determine if the app was affecting brain activity, and revealed that in those who the app worked best for, there was a significant reduction in brain activity in the PCC in response to smoking-related images. Study author Jud Brewer, an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences and psychiatry at Brown University, said in a news release:6
“This is the first study to show that mindfulness training could specifically affect a mechanism in the brain and to show that changes in this brain mechanism were connected to improved clinical outcomes …
We’re moving in the direction of being able to screen someone before treatment and offer them the behavior-change interventions that will be most likely to help them. This will save everybody time and money.”
Why Mindfulness May Help With Quitting Smoking
Most smokers are addicted to nicotine, a substance that may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine and alcohol. When attempting to quit smoking, nicotine withdrawal symptoms may cause feelings of anger and irritation, trouble thinking and tobacco cravings, making giving up cigarettes difficult.7
This, however, represents only one of the complex reasons why smoking cessation is so hard. Nicotine dependence also develops, in part, due to positive and negative reinforcement. According to a study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence:8
“Habitual smoking begins in part from the formation of associative memories between smoking and both positive (e.g., after a good meal), and negative (e.g., when ‘stressed’) affective states. Subsequently, cues that are judged to be positive or negative can induce positive or negative affective states, which can then trigger craving to smoke.
Though the centrality of craving remains controversial, evidence suggests that craving is strongly associated with smoking, which, mainly through the psychophysical properties of nicotine, results in the maintenance or improvement of positive, or reduction of negative affective states.
This sets up positive or negative reinforcement loops respectively, by reinforcing associative memories between these affective states and smoking.”
Recently, treatments aimed at helping smokers tolerate positive and negative affect9 and cravings have been developed, and mindfulness training (MT) is among them.
“MT has been hypothesized to not only bring habituated behaviors into consciousness such that they can be worked with effectively, but also target the associative learning process with an emphasis on affect and craving as critical components of positive and negative reinforcement loops,” the researchers explained.10
Mindfulness Training Works Better Than Other Methods for Quitting
The Drug and Alcohol Dependence study evaluated mindfulness training in comparison to the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking (FFS) treatment. Study participants — nicotine-dependent adults who were smoking an average of 20 cigarettes a day — received one of the treatments twice weekly for four weeks.
Those who received mindfulness training had a greater rate of reduction in cigarette use during the study, which was maintained during follow-up 13 weeks later, leading the researchers to conclude, “Mindfulness Training may confer benefits greater than those associated with current standard treatments for smoking cessation.”11
Adding further support for the usefulness of mindfulness for smoking cessation, a meta-analysis including four randomized controlled trials showed that 25.2?percent of MT participants remained abstinent for more than four?months compared to 13.6?percent of those who received usual care therapy.12
Other studies suggest that mindfulness treatment has similarities to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in terms of the mechanisms underlying its effectiveness; however, even compared to CBT, mindfulness participants reported lower anxiety, concentration difficulties, craving and dependence, and were more able to manage negative emotions without smoking.13
“Mindfulness involves purposeful, present-focused attention, which might increase the tendency for purposeful action and help people to feel more in control of their behavior,” the researchers stated.14
What Are the Benefits of Quitting Smoking?
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in the U.S.15 Compared with people who have never smoked, smokers lose at least 10 years of life expectancy, whereas quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of death associated with continued smoking by about 90%.16
You’re never too old to quit smoking, however, and can gain significant benefits no matter when you quit. In one study, researchers analyzed 8,807 people between the ages of 50 and 74 years for 9.1 years.
They found that even those well into their 70s could reverse some of the damage of a lifetime of smoking after quitting. The researchers found the individuals slashed their risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly 40 percent within five years of quitting.17,18
There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer.19 So reducing your cancer risk is one of the benefits of smoking cessation, although it’s far from the only one. Other health benefits of quitting smoking include a reduced risk of:20
- Heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease
- Heart disease within one to two years of quitting
- Respiratory symptoms, including coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
- Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Infertility in women of childbearing age
E-Cigs, or Vaping, Is Not a Safe Alternative
While rates of tobacco smoking are on the decline, from 2016 to 2017, Juul e-cigarette sales increased 641 percent, from 2.2. million devices to 16.2 million.21 This is likely an underestimate, as it only included sales from U.S. retail stores, not purchases made online or in vape shops.
Juul’s e-cigarettes are so popular that if you asked most youth what “juuling” is, they’d probably know what you’re talking about. It’s the e-cigarette equivalent of “smoking.”22 Part of the problem is that when it was first introduced, one Juul cartridge contained more than double the amount23 of nicotine found in other e-cigarettes — about the same amount you’d find in a pack of cigarettes. Since then, in an effort to compete, other e-cigarette companies have added their nicotine content, too.
While some people consider juuling or “vaping” to be a safer alternative to smoking, they pose the same risks (if not higher) of nicotine addiction, and also expose the user (and those nearby) to other potentially harmful compounds, including highly reactive free radicals.24 In traditional cigarette smoke, these highly reactive free radicals are associated with cancer, COPD and heart disease.
If you’re an adult looking to quit smoking, remember that Juuls and similar e-cigarette devices are also designed to get you to keep using them — much like cigarettes.
The National Academies of Sciences has noted that while e-cigarettes may help adults to stop smoking cigarettes, they may cause youth vapers to transition to the use of cigarettes. And in the former case, you could have a population who are similarly addicted to e-cigarettes as they once were to combustible cigarettes.25
Mindfulness for Quitting Smoking
If you’re trying to quit smoking, enlisting the help of a mindfulness app-based program makes sense. The one developed by Brewer and colleagues, called Craving to Quit, is a 21-day program that combines the mindfulness app with personal coaching and an online peer community (for a fee).26 So what exactly is mindfulness? Craving to Quit explains:27
“Based in ancient Buddhist psychology, mindfulness helps individuals pay careful attention to their cravings, such that they can see what they are made up of — thoughts and body sensations.
Importantly, with this awareness, they can notice cravings as they arise, see how they change from moment to moment (instead of lasting ‘forever’ as some of my patients have described), and as a result, stay with them and ride them out instead of acting on them. Also, paying attention also helps individuals see clearly what they are getting from their behavior in that moment.”
Some people using mindfulness to quit smoking have remarked, for instance, that it smells and taste like chemicals.
“She noticed that smoking wasn’t as great as she might have convinced herself previously. And this is the beginning of the end — we start to get disenchanted with what we were doing — just by paying careful attention. This dual purpose of mindfulness — disenchantment and being able to be with ourselves instead of reacting automatically — may be a winning combination.”28
Tips for Practicing Mindfulness
Being mindful means being present in the current moment and accepting it at face value, not giving too much weight to negative thoughts or experiences (but not ignoring them either). Mindfulness meditation is a more formal practice of mindfulness, in which you consciously zone in on, or focus your attention on, specific thoughts or sensations, then observe them in a nonjudgmental manner.
You can start out your day with a mindfulness exercise, such as focusing on your breathing for five minutes before you get out of bed. Focus on the flow of your breath and the rise and fall of your belly.29
Throughout your day, notice when you start to have cravings for a cigarette, but recognize that these are just thoughts and you don’t have to react to them. Also let any judgments about your cravings or smoking habits dissipate.
Mindfulness is a tool that you can use daily, not only for smoking cessation but to optimize your mental and emotional health. An excellent supportive tool, especially for dealing with cravings that come with quitting smoking, is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). An example of using EFT for cravings can be seen in the video at the top of this article.
With EFT, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to input kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem and voice positive affirmations. This can help you to reprogram your body’s reactions to cravings, helping you to quit smoking successfully, especially when combined with the ongoing practice of mindfulness.
While this article focuses on light-emitting diode (LED) lights please understand that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are far worse. Not only do they have the same digital light problems as LEDs but they also have mercury in them and cause dirty electricity in the 62 KHz range. If you have any fluorescent bulbs in your home you would be strongly advised to carefully replace them because if you break the bulb there are certain precautions you need to take to clean it up.
In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has special rules for cleaning up broken CFLs, which include opening windows, airing out the room and shutting of the heat or air conditioning for several hours, so as not to disturb the leaked mercury. You also are to call your local government about proper disposal of the fragments — and when in doubt to call a poison control center.1
Energy-saving LED lights2 have several detrimental biological effects. For example, as explained by photobiology expert, Dr. Alexander Wunsch, in our 2016 interview (above), LED light:
- Emits aggressive blue light that can generate high amounts of oxidative stress that contributes to visual deterioration, and is devoid of near-infrared light that would help counteract some of that damage.
- Negatively affects mitochondrial function and may therefore exacerbate health problems rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction, including metabolic disorder and cancer.
- If viewed at night can suppress your melatonin production, thereby disrupting sleep, which can have far-reaching consequences for your health, including raising your risk of insulin resistance (which in turn raises your risk of myopia3 and many other conditions and diseases).
- Can prevent the priming of retinal cells for repair and regeneration (since it does not have any healing near-infrared frequencies), thereby raising your risk of vision problems, including age-related macular degeneration4 (AMD), a leading cause of blindness among people over 50. AMD refers to damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina that’s needed for sharp central vision.
The risks of LEDs to your vision in particular are highlighted in two reports by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES). The first one, a 282-page report5,6,7 issued in 2010 (the full report8 is only available in French, but an opinion summary paper9 is available in English on anses.fr.), and a 400-page report10,11,12 issued April 2019, available only in French.
While separated by nine years, the conclusion of the second report appears to be unchanged from, and supports the opinion of the first. Considering incandescent light bulbs are being phased out both in the U.S. and European Union (EU), it’s important to understand the health ramifications of the replacements, which include LEDs. As noted by ANSES in 2010:13
“LED technology, which has certain advantages compared to other types of lighting (energy efficiency, life span), is changing rapidly. It has a wide range of applications including public, domestic and commercial lighting, sport facilities, indicator lamps (toys, signposting, etc.), vehicle lighting, and therapeutic products (light therapy).
However, the quality of the light emitted by these lamps (color temperature, color rendering index) does not always provide the same level of performance as other sources of lighting.
The intense wavelengths in the blue part of the spectrum of light emitted by some LEDs, and the associated radiation intensity, raise the question of new health risks related to these sources of light. In view of this situation, the Agency issued a formal internal request to assess the health effects of LED-based lighting systems.”
LED Light Is Photo-Toxic, French Assessment Concludes
According to the ANSES reports, exposure to intense blue LED light — such as that emitted from newer flashlights and car headlights — is phototoxic and capable of causing diminished sharpness of vision due to irreversible loss of retinal cells. “Warm white” LED lighting, however, was found to have weak phototoxicity, which is precisely what you would predict as it has far less blue light.
An American review14 published in 2016 echoes these findings, concluding LEDs with a wavelength below 455 nanometers in the blue light range is damaging to the eyes in the long term. This paper also addresses the impact of blue light on the circadian rhythm. The two issues — your circadian rhythm and vision — are actually closely linked.
In an email, lead author Gianluca Tosini told CNN15 “There are blue light photoreceptors in the retina that directly communicate with the brain circadian clock,” and that “exposure to light in the evening affect sleep and circadian rhythms mostly by inhibiting the synthesis of the sleep promoting hormone melatonin.”
As explained by Wunsch, certain retinal cells also produce melatonin that helps regenerate your retina during the night. If you use LED lights after sunset, you actually reduce the natural regenerative and restoring capacities of your eyes. Needless to say, with less regeneration you end up with degeneration. In this case, the degeneration can lead to AMD, which is the primary cause of blindness among the elderly.
On top of that, as you age, your retina accumulates fluorescent molecules called lipofuscin, which are sensitive to blue light. Janet Sparrow,16 Ph.D., professor of ophthalmic sciences at Columbia University, told CNN,17 “Early evidence suggests that this light sensitivity may lead to unhealthy optical responses over the long term.”
Brightness Density and High Proportion of Blue Light Identified as Core Dangers
As noted in ANSES’ English opinion summary from 2010:18
“Strong components in the blue part of the spectrum of light emitted by the LEDs, as well as the associated intensity of the radiation, raise the issue of new health risks related to these sources of lighting. Some scientific studies [Dawson et al., 2001, Ueda et al., 2009], based on laboratory experiments with blue LEDs conducted on monkeys, give reason to suspect a danger for the retina related to exposure to light-emitting diodes.
As a result of the analysis of the existing scientific literature and the information collected during the additional hearings, potential health issues related to the use of LEDs were identified.
Those of greatest concern, due to both the severity of the corresponding dangers and the probability of their occurring as a result of the increasingly widespread use of LEDs, relate to the photochemical effects of blue light on the eye and the glare phenomenon. They result from:
• the spectral imbalance in LEDs (high proportion of blue light in white LEDs)
• the very high luminance of LEDs (high brightness density per surface unit emitted by these very small sources).
The photochemical risk is associated with blue light, and depends on the accumulated dose to which the person has been exposed, which is generally the result of low intensity exposure repeated over long periods. There is a high level of proof of such a risk.
Evidence from human observation and experimental studies on cell cultures and various animal species has converged to demonstrate the specific toxicity of shortwave (blue) light to the retina.
Blue light is therefore recognised as being harmful and dangerous to the retina, as a result of cellular oxidative stress. There is a strong suspicion that blue light aggravates age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), based on converging observations on experimental models.”
The report also noted that the stroboscopic effects in some LED lights may induce headaches and visual fatigue, which could also lead to a higher risk of accidents.
High-Risk Groups Identified
ANSES identified the following population groups as being at particularly high risk from LED exposure, either because they are extra sensitive to the type of light emitted by LEDs, or because of their unusually high levels of exposure:
- Children, due to the transparency of the lenses in their eyes
- Those with aphakia, i.e., people who are missing a lens on one or both of their eyes, either due to a wound, ulcer, congenital anomaly or surgical removal
- Pseudophakics, i.e., those with artificial crystalline lenses, “who consequently either cannot or can only insufficiently filter short wavelengths (particularly blue light)”
- Light-sensitive individuals, including those with AMD and certain skin diseases, and those taking photosensitizing drugs
- Workers exposed to extreme levels of blue light, such as lighting installers, theatre and film industry professionals
Standards Need Adjustment
ANSES concluded the EU standard, NF EN 62471,19,20 set in 2009, which addresses the “photobiological safety of lamps and apparatus using lamps” in the wavelength range of 200 nm to 3,000 nm, is inadequate for LEDs for three reasons:21
- “The maximum exposure limits … used to define the Risk Groups are not appropriate for repeated exposure to blue light as they were calculated for exposure of one 8-hour day and do not take into account the possibility of exposure over an entire lifetime.
- It contains ambiguities concerning the measurement protocols for allocating Risk Groups: the same LED could be assigned to different Risk Groups if considered individually or if integrated in a lighting system, as the evaluation distance imposed by the standard could be different.
- It does not take into account the sensitivity of certain specific population groups (children, aphakics, pseudophakics, etc.)”
Among its many recommendations, to protect the general public and the workforce, ANSES suggested:
- Limiting the sale of LEDs for domestic use to “warm white” LED light bulbs and low-risk LED devices
- Limiting overall exposure to LEDs and avoiding LED screens before bedtime
- Reducing the luminosity of car headlights
- Regulating the installation of certain higher risk lighting systems such that they would be limited to “professional uses, under conditions in which risks can be prevented”
ANSES also suggested manufacturers should “design lighting systems in which beams of light emitted by LEDs cannot be seen directly,” to reduce intensity and glare, and recommended adaptations to the current standard on the photobiological safety of lamps to take the special characteristics of LEDs, their potential hazards and high-risk groups into account.
As far as I can tell, no amendments have been made to the standard in the years since ANSES report came out, which just goes to show how long dangers can be known without any regulatory action being taken, and why safety regulations cannot always be trusted as the final word on safety.
Can Blue-Blocking Glasses Help?
When it comes to the question of whether wearing blue-blocking glasses is a viable solution against all this blue light exposure, research findings are mixed.
A systematic review22 published in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics in 2017, which included three studies with 136 participants, concluded there was “a lack of high quality evidence to support using BB [blue-blocking] spectacle lenses for the general population to improve visual performance or sleep quality, alleviate eye fatigue or conserve macular health.”
Others disagree. The Harvard Health Letter, published by Harvard Medical School, recommends the use of blue-blocking glasses in evening hours if you have a lot of bright lighting or use LED screens.23 A number of studies have also found blue-blocking glasses impart valuable benefits, especially with regards to sleep quality. Following are a few examples:
• A 2006 study24 that found blue-blocking glasses “represent an elegant means to prevent the light?induced melatonin suppression, adding that “Further studies are needed to show that these glasses … could facilitate adaptation to night work.”
• A pilot study25 published in 2010 did just that, finding the use of blue-blocking glasses during the day, along with blue-green light exposure at night, improved adaptation to night shift work by improving “sleep, vigilance and performance.”
• A 2009 study26 in Chronobiology International found wearing amber (blue-blocking) glasses for three hours before sleep for two weeks significantly improved sleep quality and mood compared to controls who used yellow-tinted (UV-blocking only) lenses.
• A 2015 study27 in the Journal of Adolescent Health found blue-blockers significantly attenuated LED-induced melatonin suppression in the evening and decreased vigilant attention and subjective alertness before bedtime” in 15- to 17-year-old males, leading the authors to conclude that:
“BB glasses may be useful in adolescents as a countermeasure for alerting effects induced by light exposure through LED screens and therefore potentially impede the negative effects modern lighting imposes on circadian physiology in the evening.”
Blue-Blocking Glasses May Help Relieve Eye Strain
Research28 published in 2017 also contradicts Cochrane’s assessment that no high-quality evidence exists showing blue-blockers can relieve eyestrain. Here, participants who wore short wavelength-blocking glasses during two hours of computer work exhibited less visual fatigue and had fewer symptoms of visual discomfort compared to those wearing clear lenses. As noted in this study:
“Light toxicity to the retina is well established and occurs when excess light exposure causes photochemical, photomechanical, and photothermal damage. Some groups have reported that short-wavelength light may be particularly hazardous to the retina.
For example, Kuse et al. found that visible light-induced damage in photoreceptor-derived cells is wavelength-dependent: short-wavelength light in the blue spectrum had a more severe toxic effect compared to either white or green light.
These findings are consistent with other studies showing that retinal damage induced by LEDs in animal models show similar wavelength dependence. Other groups have shown that this phototoxicity can be attenuated by blocking blue light in cell models6 and in animal models …
Some human studies have shown that chronic subthreshold exposure to blue light may, indeed, have clinically relevant consequences. For example, although short-wavelength light also has been shown to be important for setting circadian rhythms, excessive exposure to blue light also has been suggested to be a major cause of eye strain. Consistently, Isono et al. reported that short wavelength-emitting devices contribute to visual fatigue …
Numerous groups have explored the possibility that lenses that block short-wavelength light may reduce these health hazards. Ayaki et al. demonstrated that wearing short-wavelength light-reducing eyeglasses when using electronic devices at night improves sleep quality and increases overnight melatonin secretion.
Similarly, Ide et al. found that wearing short-wavelength light-blocking eyeglasses during intensive computer tasks reduces eye fatigue and symptoms of eye strain.”
A primary goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that blue-blockers lessen eyestrain in a North American population. High-blocking glasses performed better than low-blocking ones. In fact, “subjects wearing high-blocking eyeglasses had even less fatigue after compared to before the task,” the authors state, adding that:
“Overall, these findings supported our assertion that high-blocking glasses do, indeed, appear to attenuate eye fatigue associated with computer use, even after controlling for confounding variables, such as age, sex, and contact lens use …
These findings not only validated past studies that have reported that short-wavelength light-blocking eyewear may attenuate eye strain, but also extended these findings to a North American population.
In addition, although a formal double-blind study design is impossible given the nature of the experiment, our rigorous study design, including careful control of experimental conditions (e.g., monitoring subjects for the duration of the task, standardizing testing room conditions, testing subjects at roughly the same time of day), minimized the risks of potential confounding factors.”
For Optimal Health, Address Your Daily Light Exposure
In my view, there’s ample evidence and sound science showing cool white LED lighting is a bad idea, from a health standpoint. While it may save you a few dollars on your electric bill, it could significantly impact your medical costs, not to mention quality of life, in the long run.
However they should be fine in areas that are infrequently used. The majority of bulbs in my home are LED but the ones in areas that I use all the time — my bedroom, kitchen and bathroom — are all incandescent. The LEDs in other rooms are frequently left on accidentally by guests and cleaners and when they are they don’t cause loads of lost energy.
To learn more about the ins and outs of LEDs and what makes this type of light so detrimental, please listen to my interview with Wunsch, embedded at the top, or read through the original article. Light is a vastly underestimated health factor. It’s more important than people realize, especially for healthy vision and sleep.
The good news is this is an area where most people still have a great deal of control — at least until you can no longer purchase incandescent light bulbs. To optimize your daily light exposure, keep these four key considerations in mind:
1. Replace LEDs in key areas that have night lighting with incandescent light bulbs — In areas where you spend most of your time during the day and evening, such as your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, swap out your LEDs for regular incandescent light bulbs, and leave the LEDs for areas such as hallways, closets, garage and porch, where your exposure to them is minimal.
2. Get bright, natural light exposure during the day — To get good sleep, you need properly aligned circadian rhythms, and step No. 1 is to make sure you get a sufficient dose of bright light exposure during the daytime. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night.
If you’re in darkness all day long, your body can’t appreciate the difference and will not optimize melatonin production. Ideally, to help your circadian system reset itself, get at least 10 to 15 minutes of light first thing in the morning.
This will send a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals later on. Then, around solar noon, get another 30 to 60 minutes’ worth of sunlight.
3. Avoid blue enriched light at night — Melatonin acts as a marker of your circadian phase or biological timing. Normally, your brain starts progressively increasing the hormone melatonin around 9 or 10 p.m., which makes you sleepy. Somewhere between 50 and 1,000 lux is the activation range within which light will begin to suppress melatonin production.
However, wavelength is also important. Red and amber lights will not suppress melatonin while blue, green and white lights will. So, be sure to avoid the blue light wavelength after sunset. This includes artificial light, and light emitted by electronics such as your TV, computer and other electronic screens.
There are a number of ways to avoid blue enriched light in the evening depending on your lifestyle and personal preferences, including the following suggestions. You can also learn more by reviewing my 2014 interview with researcher Dan Pardi.
- Turn off or dim all lights after sunset, and avoid watching TV or using light emitting electronics for at least one hour before bedtime (ideally two hours or more).
- After sundown, shift to a low-wattage bulb with yellow, orange or red light if you need illumination. A salt lamp illuminated by a 5-watt bulb is an ideal solution that will not interfere with your melatonin production.
- If using a computer, smartphone or tablet, install blue light-blocking software like Iris,29 or use amber colored glasses that block blue light.30
4. Sleep in complete darkness — Once it’s time to go to sleep, make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Exposure to room light during sleep has been shown to suppress melatonin by more than 50 percent,31 but even a small amount of light can decrease your melatonin. Simply closing your eyes is not enough as light can penetrate your eyelids.
If blackout shades are too great an investment, a sleep mask can do the job for far less money. Also keep in mind that digital alarm clocks with an LED display could have a detrimental effect, so either swap out your clock, or cover the display.
Alternatives include a sun alarm clock, which wakes you up by gradually increasing the intensity of light, thereby simulating sunrise, or a talking alarm clock,32 designed for the visually impaired.
Peppers are highly appreciated in many cuisines for their many benefits and uses. They’re one of the most common cooking ingredients used around the world, mainly because of the flavor they add to dishes. These spices can be used fresh or dried, and come in powdered form – one example of which is paprika.
Whether it’s for seasoning or garnishing, paprika has cemented itself as one of today’s most well-loved spices. Discover just what paprika spice can offer for your health, plus get tips on how to use it for cooking.
Paprika is a spice made from grounding up different varieties of Capsicum annuum peppers — these can include sweet bell peppers, hot red and/or peppers and other varieties in between.1 Although some websites might beg to differ, according to The Kitchn, it’s the fourth most-used spice around the world.2
Paprika is widely used in different cuisines, such as Bulgarian, Spanish and Moroccan, with each one having its own distinct type of paprika.3 However, Hungary stands out among all these cuisines — their climate is favorable for growing high-quality paprika, which is why Hungarian paprika is one of the finest quality spices today.4
But is paprika spicy? It depends on the variety of paprika and the type of peppers used to make it. For example, Hungarian paprika is known as the “hot” variety, adding a spicy and peppery flavor to any dish.5 American paprika, on the other hand, can be both sweet and mildly pungent. In the U.S., California is the largest supplier of this spice.6
Paprika also comes in various colors, ranging from bright red to brown. Surprisingly, red paprika is said to be sweeter and milder, while those that are pale-red or brown are often the spiciest.7
Some people complain on occasion that the paprika they bought is tasteless. The secret to this spice actually lies in the cooking process — you need to heat it to unlock its natural flavor.8 Try cooking it with a little coconut oil or butter over low heat for a minute.9 You can also add it at the end of the cooking process and you’ll get the deep, sweet-spicy and earthy aroma and taste.10
Adding a dash (or two) of paprika to your meals can, surprisingly, offer advantages to your health, including some essential vitamins and minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants11 that can deliver many benefits to your body. Here are some of those benefits:
• It can help maintain eye and skin health — Four carotenoids in paprika, namely lutein, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene,12 function as antioxidants that may help inhibit DNA damage.13
Lutein and zeaxanthin in particular are essential for preventing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.14 Other nutrients include cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene, which are converted into vitamin A,15 which works in the retina to preserve eyesight16 and is also known for helping improve the appearance of aging skin.17
• Paprika may help promote blood formation and healthy circulation — The copper and iron in paprika are essential for the formation of new blood cells.18 The potassium in this spice can also act as a vasodilator, and may help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis.19
• You may improve your sleep with paprika — The vitamin B6 in paprika may promote melatonin production20 and enhance your levels of norepinephrine and serotonin, hormones that are linked to mood and happiness.21
• This spice may even help heal wounds — The vitamin E in paprika can aid in red blood cell production and even in forming clots to promote faster healing of cuts, scrapes and wounds.22
• May help relieve pain — Capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers that gives them their spiciness, can relax blood vessels23 and relieve pain. It’s even used in topical creams.24
If you want to have paprika on hand, you can opt to grow your own paprika instead of buying the ready-to-use paprika powders in groceries. According to Gardening Know How, paprika’s growing requirements are similar to other pepper varieties. They prefer fertile, well-draining soil and thrive best in a sunny area.
You can grow paprika from seed, directly in soil — this is recommended for warm climates. If you live in a cold place plant them indoors in pots first. Peppers are sensitive to cold weather.
When transferring potted peppers outdoors, make sure to put 12 inches in between each plant, in rows that are 3 feet apart. You can harvest the peppers anytime between summer and fall. When they’ve turned a bright red, that’s a sign that they’re ready for harvesting.
To dry the peppers, place them in a mesh bag and hang them in your attic or a room that reaches around 130 to 150 degrees F. You can also use a commercial dehydrator. Once 85% of the pod’s weight has been lost, the paprika can be ground into a powder.25
Like other ground spices, paprika loses its flavor and potency after some time. The Spruce recommends using paprika within six months to maximize its taste and aroma.
It’s also crucial to store it properly. Place the spice in an airtight container, in a cool or dark place. Instead of a clear glass container, place the spice in a dark tin container that will keep it away from direct light.26
Many people are only familiar with paprika because it’s usually added as a garnish to dishes. Hummus looks fancy and presentable with a dash of red paprika. The same goes for deviled eggs. Paprika adds a red tint to sauces, stews and meats, too.
But don’t limit yourself to these uses. Paprika is a versatile spice that can bring new depths to your favorite meals. Here are some of the uses of paprika around the world:
- Hungary — Perhaps no other country in the world loves paprika more than Hungary. It’s featured in their (unofficial) national dish, goulash. Other dishes that feature paprika include hortobagyi palacsinta, savory pancake with stewed meat and paprikas csirke, or “paprika chicken.”27 Eva Morton, the renowned Hungarian opera singer, even dubbed it their national spice.28
- Spain — Rice dishes are enhanced with this seasoning.29
- Thailand — Aside from being added to Pad Thai,30 it can be used to make red curry paste.31
One important tip when cooking with paprika: Avoid burning it. Even accidentally leaving it for a few seconds over heat will make it bitter and unpalatable, so make sure to pay attention when using it. Ideally, paprika should be lightly cooked, fried in a little coconut oil or added at the end of the cooking process so it will release its enticing aroma and flavor.32
Paprika goes well in many marinades and sauces, and it can certainly complement meats and different types of produce. Here are a couple of delicious recipes you can try:
Paprika and Cumin Roasted Vegetables
- Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the vegetables with coconut oil, paprika, salt, cumin and pepper.
- Place the veggies on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, shaking a few times during cooking, until vegetables are tender and cooked through.
This recipe makes four servings.
(Adapted from Slender Kitchen33)
Chicken With Paprika Sauce
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Salt and pepper
- Cut chicken into strips (according to your preferred size).
- In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with half the paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of pepper.
- Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
- Add chicken, cook, tossing occasionally, until opaque throughout, about four to five minutes. Transfer to plate.
- Heat the remaining coconut oil in the same skillet.
- Add onion, cook until browned and softened. Add remaining tablespoon paprika and stir, cooking, about 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes and 3/4 cup water, and cook until saucy.
- Return chicken to skillet. Add in sour cream and cook until just heated through, without boiling.
- Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
This recipe makes four servings.
(Adapted from Food.com34)
If you don’t have paprika powder on hand, don’t worry: You can simply substitute with other spices. Cajun spice, made from a blend of cayenne, black and white peppers, is a wonderful paprika substitute, especially since it’s not as spicy as cayenne.35 Ground cayenne pepper and black pepper powder can both work as substitutes for paprika as well, but you have to take note of the quantities.36
If you want to preserve the flavor of paprika and ensure that it’s always on hand, you can simply make paprika oil. Here’s a simple technique from Food.com to make paprika oil:37
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 cups coconut oil
- Place two teaspoons of paprika in a clear bottle or jar and pour in the coconut oil. Seal the container and place in a cool and dark place for a week. Make sure to shake the bottle occasionally.
- Put a double layer of cheesecloth over a funnel and then transfer the oil into another bottle, straining out the powder.
Paprika is one of the most versatile spices out there, so don’t just use it for decoration! Explore its potential by using it in your favorite recipes. You’ll never know, this may become your new favorite spice.
By Anna Von Reitz
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