I know you’ve heard people make the following statements many times before:
“I just need to eat less and exercise more to burn fat”
“When I finally find that magic fat burner supplement, the pounds will come flying off”
“I just need to count calories to lose fat - nothing special to it”
“I’ll use 2 hours of cardio per day from tomorrow until the summer so that I’m ready for the beach”
“I’ve got some amazing supplements for fat loss. I’m going to be ripped!”
Nothing could be further from the truth. And hopefully, you frowned when hearing these statements and continued with your day.
Because you know what?
The light in your environment - such as morning sunlight - affects fat loss as well. Fat loss is a complex issue that cannot be solved by exercise and dieting alone.
So in this blog post I’ll teach you how to use morning sunlight for boosting thyroid hormone levels. Thyroid health is an underappreciated key for fat loss success.
Well, the thyroid gland is located at the front of your neck and integral to energy production and burning body fat. So if your toolbox consists of just changing your diet, supplements, and exercise then you’re not doing yourself a favor.
You need a new tool - a secret weapon. Is morning sunlight a magic pill that will make you easily lose 30 pounds a month? Of course not. But you will move the needle in the right direction. Sometimes that extra edge is all you need - and this edge is free!
Keep in MInd, Primalhacker does have a friend, Todd, who did literally nothing else except add morning sunlight and lost 25lbs in 6 weeks!
Lett’s thus get started.
This is a guest blog post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Clinical Health Science (MS), Philosophy (BA; MA), and Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and helps thousands of people take charge of their own health with his blog.
USING MORNING SUNLIGHT FOR BOOSTING THYROID LEVELS AND FAT LOSS
Many people are unaware that light in their environment has a huge effect on their health. Fortunately, that tide is slowly turning.
A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization stated that kids under 5 years old need to limit their daily screen time to less than 1 hour a day (R).
Screen time is the period which you spend in from of the television, tablet, and smartphone. Right now screen time levels approximate an inconceivable 3.5 hours a day for primary school children (R).
For teenagers and adults, those numbers are even worse.
Well, evidence exists that screen time increases the risk of obesity, depression, overeating, a lower quality diet, and even lower quality of life (R).
That light in your environment can either support your health or be a detriment. The World Health Organization is finally catching on to that trend.
The health-promoting effects of light, on the contrary, have also become very heavily studied. Thousands of studies exist on what is called “photobiomodulation” or “red light therapy” (R).
Red light therapy uses LED panels that put out red and infrared light. Those types of light affect your body’s biology and therefore your health - I’ll tell you more in a sec. For now, it’s important to realize that sunlight also emits red and infrared light and can thus affect your health.
Curious yet? In that case, let me tell you about my strategy in this blog post. I’ll:
- First, tell you about the health risks of obesity and why you shouldn't be obese.
- Then treat the central role of the thyroid in understanding obesity.
- Consider why (morning) sunlight is so important to your health.
- Why artificial light, especially at night can lead to obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
- How light - such as sunlight and red light therapy - affect fat loss.
- And finally, treat how to properly use morning sunlight for fat loss
Of course, Chris and Thaddeus have already explored the topic of fat loss from many different angles on Primalhacker. Both authors, for example, have written on:
- The importance of lifting heavy, optimizing sleep, and using saunas for quicker fat loss
- How cold exposure, also known as “cold thermogenesis” can massively enhance your weight loss efforts
- Using cold showers and saunas after a workout to bump your fat burning into high gear
- Eating only meat, also known as the “carnivore diet”, as a popular method of the keto diet that sheds fat quickly for many people
- Supplementing with red light therapy to increase blood flow and energy usage, which then lead to additional fat loss.
This blog post can be envisioned as a continuation of that series.
So are you ready?
Here we go…
First, the perils of obesity:
WHY BEING OVERWEIGHT AND OBESITY ARE SUCH PROBLEMS
Everyone today knows that obesity does not just negatively affect your looks--your health also goes down the more obese you are.
Nonetheless, very few people are fully aware of how problematic obesity really is.
The obesity problem has also grown to unprecedented proportions. You only have to open your eyes to observe that obesity is a big problem. Even kids in elementary school are obese today. That obesity problem wasn’t that big when I was a kid - and I’m only 33 years old.
So let’s look at some statistics:
In 2016, about 1.9 billion people are overweight on this planet - that’s almost a third (R). From a statistical standpoint, the problem is worse in developed countries such as the US: more than 70% are overweight and almost 40% are obese there (R; R).
Any country that accepts the lifestyle of the developed world eventually ends up with the excessive weight and obesity problem as well.
Being obese affects every area of your life:
- Your general risk of dying goes up - independent of cause (R; R; R). That risk is commonly expressed through what is called “all-cause mortality”. All-cause mortality aggregates all variables that could impact your chance for survival, such as getting heart disease, Alzheimer’s in your brain, or dying because of a car accident. Higher all-cause mortality simply entails that you’ll live for a shorter period of time.
- You’ll more frequently become diseased. Your chances of getting diabetes (R; R), heart disease (R; R), chronic back pain (R; R; R), lung problems (R; R; R; R), and disability (R; R) all go up.
- Unfortunately, mental health is also negatively affected. Obesity is linked to depression (R; R), eating disorders (R; R), a lower quality of life (R: R; R), and decreased self-esteem (R; R; R).
- Stigmatization makes matters worse - physical and mental problems are thus not your only worries if you’re obese (R; R; R). Such stigmas may make you more prone to gain weight, make poor health choices, and be neglected.
(The debate around obesity is complex. Some studies suggest an “obesity paradox” may exist, meaning that obesity at higher age increases your survival, and also in case you’ve already got a disease (R; R))
Of course, obesity is not exclusively your fault…
Companies that produce processed foods, for example, actively try to make them as addictive as possible. So entire teams of scientists work on programming your brain to crave that Oreo over and over again (R; R).
Frequently eating processed foods develops the activation of similar brain patterns as during substance abuse (R; R). You can thus literally be addicted to processed foods while ruining your health in the process.
Furthermore, very convincing reasons exist to believe that obesity is a disease in and of itself (R; R; R). Advertisements that promote Mcdonald's or Wendy’s to children is thus similar to having the tobacco industry expose them to cigarette commercials.
Crazy but true.
And while I’m not giving you an exhaustive list of all variables that affect fat loss, I do want to single out the thyroid:
THE THYROID’S ROLE IN FAT LOSS
As stated before, the thyroid is located at the front of your neck and is central to the body’s energy-producing capacity.
More than 10 different thyroid hormones exist throughout the human body, all at varying levels in different tissues. I won’t go into all these hormones in detail but only cover the basics:
The most important thyroid hormones are THR (Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone), TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine).
Let’s consider these hormones:
- THR (Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone) is first released in the brain, in an area called the “hypothalamus” (R; R). The hypothalamus is involved in many evolutionary primordial functions of the body, such as regulating temperature, secreting hormones, and managing hunger, thirst, and sleep (R). When TRH is released, it affects the pituitary gland (R). The pituitary gland also has many basic bodily functions, such as those related to growth, hormonal function, and libido (R).
- TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is then released by that pituitary gland (R). TSH affects the thyroid gland downstream (R). The brain is thus the “first mover” in thyroid function, while the thyroid gland acts as an intermediary. That thyroid gland is subsequently responsible for thyroid hormones such as T3 and T4.
- T4 (thyroxine) is directly released by the thyroid gland (R; R). T4 moves throughout the bloodstream and can thus have an effect throughout your body. The 3 areas that are responsible for that eventual T4 creation are named the “hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid” (HPT) axis - points 1-3 which I’ve covered before.
- T3 (triiodothyronine) can be created out of T4 - their difference is that T4 contains 4 iodine atoms, while T3 only contains 3 (R; R). Eventually, it’s mostly the T3 hormone is used by your cells. T3 is also produced in your thyroid gland, but T3 is also created by converting T4. T4 can be envisioned as the “inactive” thyroid hormone, while T3 is “active”.
While oversimplified, the end-goal of those steps is to get T3 into your cells where it can be used.
Thyroid hormones cannot be created out of thin air though. Let me explain why by taking a small detour:
You can probably notice that the word “tyro” or similar sounding phrases regularly return in the name of thyroid hormones. That’s no coincidence. A building block of proteins called “tyrosine” is responsible for the creation of those hormones (R; R).
Tyrosine is found in higher quantities in animal foods, and can also be made from another amino acid called “phenylalanine”. Phenylalanine is also mostly found in animal foods (R).
Iodine is another building block of thyroid hormones--without sufficient building blocks, your thyroid function will be inhibited (R; R). Other nutrients such as selenium, iron, and copper are required as well. The aforementioned iron is also best supplied with a diet that includes animal foods (once again).
Thyroid issues can be pretty complex. Problems can originate at several steps:
- The brain doesn’t allow the thyroid to release hormones, such as THR and TSH
- The thyroid itself is prevented from creating T4
- Thyroid hormones, mostly T4 and T3, are not carried where they need to go
- Several tissues don’t convert T4 into T3. These tissues include the liver, brain, thyroid, muscles, and gut.
- Your cells don’t properly take up thyroid hormones or don’t properly metabolize it. In that case, you may have high T3 levels but the hormone is not used properly.
Break one of these steps and thyroid function is thus sub-optimal.
Of course, I’m not giving you a lecture on thyroid problems - the topic of this blog post is fat loss. But fat loss will also take a hit if your thyroid hormone levels are lower.
Let’s find out:
Thyroid hormone levels and metabolism
Metabolism can be understood as “resting metabolic rate”. Resting metabolic rate are the calories you’re burning 24-7, independent of circumstance (R; R). The higher your resting metabolic rate is, the greater your capacity for fat loss gets (R; R).
With a very low metabolic rate, it becomes harder and harder to burn many calories because overeating quickly leads to weight gain (R; R; R).
Hard time imagining that concept of resting metabolic rate? In that case, have a look at children. Children - when they’re healthy - can eat almost anything they want without gaining body fat.
Just think back to when you were 10 years old: you could eat a Snickers bar and coke between your meals and you’d still not gain any fat. If you repeat the same behavior now you’re 20 or 30 years later, you’d gain pound after pound with no end in sight.
Children have a very high resting metabolic rate - that level drops the older you get (R; R). The loss of muscle mass alone cannot explain that drop. Your metabolic rate thus simply drops once you get older.
Keep in mind that a higher amount of muscle mass level can save your metabolic rate somewhat (R; R). Now, I’m not saying you should become a 275-pound bodybuilder - carrying so much muscle mass is very unhealthy - but some muscle mass keeps your metabolic rate higher into old age.
(By the way, I’ve written an extensive blog post about resting metabolic rate.)
You’ll want instead is a higher metabolic rate without having to “bulk up” to extreme levels. And by having a higher metabolic rate, you’ll move closer to the metabolism you had when you were young.
In the next section, I’ll tell you how morning sunlight contributes to that process.
Children: the ultimate fat loss experts?
WHY MORNING SUNLIGHT MATTERS
For millions of years, sunlight was the main light source your ancestors saw during the morning and the rest of the day.
Sure, the intentional control of fire was discovered about 800,000 years ago. But fire only emits red and infrared light. Nighttimes were thus mostly absent from light, except fires and moonlight, and the daytime began when the sun got up.
Today is totally different...
The problem with modern technology is that they emit unprecedented amounts of blue and green light. When blue and green light enters your eyes, they signal to your brain that it’s noon (R; R; R).
That’s a huge problem.
If you’re looking at a tablet or television at 3 AM, your brain also gets that impulse from blue and green light. Your brain thus cannot tell the difference between sunlight and artificial light and thinks it’s daytime.
There’s yet another problem though:
Screens and artificial light (from CFL and LEDs) don’t contain any red and infrared light.
You need red and infrared light, however, for proper bodily functioning and thus to move closer (or retain) optimal health. In fact, sunlight predominates in red and infrared light in the morning hours - ultraviolet light is not yet present at that time (R; R). Blue and green light are also less predominant then.
So if you’re staying inside all day, you won’t get the benefits of red and infrared light. Fortunately, the effects of these light types upon the thyroid have been studied in great detail.
A quickly growing field of study, called “LLLT” (Low Level Laser Therapy) or “red light therapy”, concerns itself with using just the right dose of red and infrared light for therapeutic purposes.
Primalhacker has featured the subject in great detail on their blog. But let’s relate that topic to thyroid function:
HOW LIGHT AFFECTS FAT LOSS: RED AND INFRARED LIGHT FOR THYROID FUNCTION
So let’s consider how red and infrared light affect fat loss by influencing the thyroid:
- In one study (R), red and infrared light exposure completely eradicated the requirement for taking thyroid medication (T4) in 47% of participants. The result was measured over a 9-month period. Those who still did use T4 could generally lower their dosage. Red and infrared light thus activates thyroid production. The only downside of the study was the low number of participants.
- Another study (R) demonstrates that levels of different types of some antibodies are lowered with greater red and infrared light exposure. Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb) is one example of such an antibody. Medication dosages also went down as a result once again. Autoimmune conditions of the thyroid are really prevalent - Hashimoto’s disease is one example of such a condition (R; R). Red and infrared light lowering antibody counts is thus really promising for many people with thyroid issues - who frequently have trouble losing fat. Another study confirms the finding on red and infrared light healing the thyroid in case of a present condition (R).
- Red and infrared light normalize blood flow (R). With autoimmune conditions that blood flow is frequently off--red and infrared light restore normal blood flow to the thyroid.
- In mice, red and infrared light exposure increase T3 and T4 levels (R). Unfortunately, that effect has not yet been demonstrated in human beings. Nevertheless, many people with thyroid issues consider red and infrared light exposure life-saving. A study in rabbits shows a similar pattern, so a similar result in humans is possible (R).
Most of these effects were actually tested with red and infrared lasers or LED panels. The increase in T4 and T3 hormones is very promising nonetheless. Very few modalities exist by which you can increase thyroid hormone levels without prescription medication.
The results of these studies can nevertheless be extrapolated to morning sunlight because the sun emits the same types of light.
Hopefully, you now realize a shocking reason why fat loss can fail: 95% of people in today’s society don’t get sufficient light exposure.
Without the right light exposure, you’re thus missing out on a big benefit for your thyroid.
What’s more, if you’re spending all day long around blue and green light you may even have a bigger problem because you’re irradiating your thyroid (the front of your neck) with blue light all day long.
A photopigment found in the skin, called “melanopsin”, is responsible for that risk (R; R). Excessive blue light exposure has effects that are oftentimes opposite to red and infrared light.
You thus need to protect yourself against excessive blue light exposure - so protect yourself by wearing long sleeve clothes after sunset.
And I’m not done yet regarding fat loss. Red and infrared light have more far-reaching consequences for fat loss besides the thyroid:
Other Fat Loss Mechanisms
Surprise:: red and infrared light also stimulate fat loss independent from their effects on the thyroid.
To be specific, red light and infrared light affect fat loss in the body at a systemic level (R; R). The theory is currently that light allows more fat to be released from cells, which subsequently increase fat burning.
Another theory is that fat cells themselves are destroyed, which releases fatty acids into the bloodstream.
Some studies even suggested that red and infrared light could reduce fat at specific places of the body, but that idea has been thoroughly debunked (R; R). Fat loss accomplished through light exposure is thus spread throughout the human body.
So if you carry lots of body fat around your hips, that’s where you’ll initially lose most weight. A similar pattern would be true for belly fat.
A few mechanisms by which light increases fat loss are increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering inflammation (R). The end result is really simple: you’ll remove inches from your waist and the rest of your body (R; R).
Of course, it’s always best to combine that therapy with a good diet and sleep pattern. If you’re eating tons of junk food and sleeping poorly, no red and infrared light can compensate for these unhealthy habits.
Of course, always remember, nothing replaces the sun:
Let’s first consider the specific effects of blue, green, and ultraviolet light:
Blue, Green And Ultraviolet Light
Red and infrared light are not the only parts of sunlight that affect fat loss. In fact, both blue and ultraviolet light massively contribute as well.
Blue and green light help wake you up in the morning.
How? There’s a hormone called “melatonin”. Blue and green light exposure to the eye suppresses melatonin production in your brain...
You need melatonin to sleep quickly, stay asleep, and have tons of deep sleep during the night (R; R; R). Deep sleep is one of the phases in which you truly recover, together with the dream phase.
During the morning time, however, blue and green light need to tell your body it’s time to wake up. At that time you need low melatonin levels.
Through light exposure, the circadian rhythm I’ve talked about before thus needs to get an impulse that it’s daytime.
That circadian rhythm is extremely important for fat loss, as disruptions are associated (and probably causally responsible) for insulin resistance, obesity, excessive hunger hormones, poor food choices, and more (R; R; R; R; R; R; R; R; R).
Sleep is thus fundamental to avoiding obesity. And contrary to what you’d expect, your actions in the morning time already affect your sleep at night.
So you may think: “where does ultraviolet light come in?”
Easy: ultraviolet light is only added later in the day. At first, the ultraviolet light emitted by the sun does not yet reach the earth’s surface. Once the sun gets higher up in the sky ultraviolet light enters the picture.
Ultraviolet light is especially important for boosting dopamine and serotonin in your brain (R; R) The eye is once again the main mechanism of action. Dopamine makes you assertive, happy, and motivated - also aiding abstract thought and your imagination.
That serotonin is also converted into melatonin at night again. So sunlight exposure during the day equals better sleep at night.
Takaway: get your morning sun to program your brain for fat loss.
Lastly, that light also affects your resting metabolic rate:
Resting Metabolic Rate And Light
Remember I talked about resting metabolic rate before - the calories you’re burning 24-7 independent of your activity level?
That resting metabolic rate increases with better sleep and decreases with long-term sleep deprivation (R; R). What’s even worse is that if you do eat too little while you’re sleep deprived, you’re more prone to lose muscle mass instead of body fat.
Remember that resting metabolic rate is closely tied to thyroid function. So if the light in your environment affects resting metabolic rate through the circadian rhythm, it also likely affects thyroid function.
The light in your environment does affect sleep quality. Greater bright light exposure during the day improves sleep quality at night (R; R; R). Through that improvement in circadian rhythm functioning, thyroid function is thus hypothetically also affected.
Takeaway? Sleep well to burn more calories!
So let’s now look at how to use morning sunlight exposure:
Implementing Morning Sunlight In Your Life
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Morning sunlight.
This step is really easy:
Before you leave the house in the morning, make sure to get at least a few minutes of sunlight exposure. Three minutes is the minimum, but more is better. Get as naked as you can without the cops arresting you. Yes, even your private parts need sunlight exposure (if possible).
If you cannot be naked, try a Kikini tan through swimwear. With Kikini pieces of clothing about 20% of the sunlight still reaches your private parts. While the solution is not perfect, it’s the best you can do in an imperfect world that doesn’t universally value sunlight exposure (yet).
And by the way: no sunglasses or sunscreen allowed.
With sunglasses, your brain never gets the impulse that it’s morning time. And sunscreen contains many harmful chemicals while blocking healthy levels of ultraviolet light from reaching your skin and forming vitamin D (R; R).
If you insist on wearing “sunglasses”, then wear some blue blocking glasses at night. That’s right, glasses that block light are best only worn indoors. So grab a pair of these glasses and sleep better tonight.
And read up more about sunlight exposure on Primalhacker as well.
So let’s finally conclude:
CONCLUSION: MORNING SUNLIGHT: A MISSING LINK IN THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC?
I know what you’re thinking: “why didn’t anyone tell me about morning sunlight and fat loss earlier?”
Well, the transition towards considering the effects of light on health has only really taken off in the last decade.
Sure, lots of important research was already done in the 1950s and 60s, but the field only really took off after the year 2000.
And now information is slowly trickling out. The effects of morning sunlight can be very dramatic for fat loss, because even people on thyroid medication may experience massive benefits.
The strategy is also very simple: just get your morning sun every single day. Get more sun in the afternoon if you want bonus points. Don’t burn.
And if getting sun is “impossible” for you, get a red light therapy device. Primalhacker offers many options in that domain.
No need to let your thyroid hinder your fat loss efforts that require so much sweat and tears. You deserve the best. And you should and will get the best now...