The dark side of nocturnal light pollution. Outdoor light at night increases risk of coronary heart disease

Thomas Münzel, Omar Hahad, Andreas Daiber, The dark side of nocturnal light pollution. Outdoor light at night increases risk of coronary heart disease, European Heart Journal, Volume 42, Issue 8, 21 February 2021, Pages 831–834,

This editorial refers to ‘Outdoor light at night and risk of coronary heart disease among older adults: a prospective cohort study’, by S. Sun et al., on page 822

Environmental triggers of the global burden of disease and deaths

The aim of exposome research is to characterize the impact of all environmental exposures during our entire life span on the biochemical systems in our body and their associated (mostly adverse) health effects.1 The need for exposome research is emphasized by health side effects caused by ambient chemical pollution (from soil, water, and air) leading to up to 13 million premature deaths worldwide, with a major part representing non-communicable diseases.2 However, these numbers do not take into account the impact of additional environmental stressors contributing significantly to the global burden of disease such as light exposure, mental stress, and the temperature.3 The leading role of air pollution [e.g. fine particulate matter, particles with a diameter <2.5 µm (PM2.5)] as an environmental health risk factor is well established, especially for causing cardiovascular disease including ischaemic heart disease and stroke, and by increasing mortality.4,5 There is also a growing body of evidence showing that noise, in particular transportation noise, represents an important environmental health risk factor, mainly by increasing the risk of cardiovascular, metabolic, and neuropsychological disease and thereby causing ∼1.6 million disability-adjusted life years in the Western European region.6 The adverse health effects of nocturnal light pollution are not very well characterized so far, highlighting the novelty of the work by Sun et al. published in this issue of the European Heart Journal.7 Within the next sections we will provide a short overview of the importance of light exposure at night as a potential health risk factor and try to elucidate its major mechanism of action. We will also critically evaluate the major messages of the current work by Sun et al. and discuss their societal impact.

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