Pink Makes You Docile, Orange Makes You Buy Stuff, Red Makes You Mad: How To Use Color Light Therapy For Mood, Cognition, Healing & More.

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A couple weeks ago, in my article “Three Ways To Biohack A Sauna For More Heat, A Better Detox & Enhanced Fitness“, I used the slightly woo-woo sounding term “chromotherapy”.

Upon deeper digging, it turns out that chromotherapy, also known as color light therapy, is something we all encounter every day, such as when we walk outside and experience optimism induced by a blue sky or orange sun, or experience quite the opposite effect from a grey day.

Light therapy is also used to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), regulate your internal biological clock (circadian rhythms), and affect mood. Companies such as GE and Philips have even created phototherapeutic products such as the home lighting “Hue” system to improve and regulate mood. The therapeutic applications of light and color are also being investigated in many hospitals and
research centers worldwide. Results so far indicate that full-spectrum, ultraviolet, colored, and laser
light can have therapeutic value for a range of conditions from chronic pain and depression to
immune disorders.

Although I didn't know what it was called at the time, the concepts behind chromotherapy were something I first encountered a couple years ago when I read the book “Drunk Tank Pink“, a rather fascinating read which describes how the isolation tanks in many prisons are painted a specific color of pink that is known to pacify feelings of anger and rage. The book also describes how we tend to trust people who wear blue shirts, we are more likely to donate when the donation button is pink on a website, we are more likely to buy when a button is orange, and much more.

I've also written about how I wear a special set of purple tinted lenses to enhance my reading speed and visual perception, have red light bulbs in my room for relaxation, blue light bulbs in my office and bedroom for alertness, and even bright yellow LED lights for inner ear phototherapy.

It turns out that color, specifically when combined with light, can actually affect both emotions and energy systems. So now, as I perform my daily sauna session in which I sit, stand, sweat, swing kettlebells and do yoga while using my magical chromotherapy wand (the sauna remote control) to vary colors from red to blue to green and beyond, I've delved a bit more into playing around with chromotherapy. In this article you're going to learn exactly how you can use color to do things like change your mood, your cognition, your performance and more.

Although it's slightly pseudoscientific, I find this stuff fascinating, and I think you'll find a few gems in this relatively short article. Enjoy (and I'll include a link to a longer, scientific article at the end).

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How Color Affects Your Health & Physiology

So here's the basic and very brief science of color…

…color is simply light that has been split into different wavelengths that vibrate at different speeds and at different frequencies. Objects that absorb all wavelengths and do not reflect any back are black. Objects that reflect all wavelengths and do reflect are white. Everything between black and white is color. Colors are wavelengths of energy that, to you and me, appear as color because of the potential and capabilities of any given object to either absorb or reflect the energy.

There. Every physicist on the face of the planet is probably snickering, but that, my friend, is how I personally define color.

Now, let's look at which colors do what for your emotions, your health and your physiology.

Much of the information below is derived from both Ayurvedic, Egyptian, Chinese and Greek medicine. For example, in India, Ayurveda, an ancient form of medicine practiced for thousands of years, is based on the idea that every individual contains five elements of the universe which are present in specific proportions unique to each individual, including their personality type and constitution. When these elements are out of balance, Ayurvedic medicine implements color therapy to restore this balance.

For example, in Eastern medicine, you'll often encounter the concept of chakras. The body has seven major energy centers at the sites of each of the major endocrine glands, and these are known as chakras. Each chakra is responsive to a different color, each chakra energizes and sustains certain organs and each chakra corresponds to specific states of consciousness, personality types and endocrine secretions.

Check out the image at the top of this post. See how those colors line up to specific areas on the body?

For example:

Red – Root chakra
Orange – Sacral chakra
Green – Heart chakra
Blue – Throat chakra
Indigo – Brow chakra
Violet – Crown chakra

In ancient Egypt, the art of healing with color was founded in the Hermetic tradition, and both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used colored minerals, stones, crystals, salves, and dyes as remedies, as well as painted treatment sanctuaries in various shades of color. In China, traditional Chinese medicine associates specific colors with specific organs and energy systems.

Now I'll be among the first to admit that many Eastern healing traditions aren't necessarily rooted in hardcore, Western, clinical, white lab-coat research, but I certainly know that when using chromotherapy light with colors you're about to read about below, I've experienced several of the effects listed, and I've tried to include as many resources and references as I could hunt down below this list of colors.

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Red and Pink

In chromotherapy, red and pink are called “The Great Energizers.” They are said to help loosen and release muscle stiffness and constrictions. Red and pink promote cellular growth and the circulatory system, and therapy with these colors are indicated for colds, sluggish or dormant conditions, such as pneumonia, arthritis, anemia, as a liver stimulant, an energy builder, and for increasing circulation. Red stimulates the base of the spine, causing the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. Red can also cause hemoglobin to multiply, increasing energy, raising body temperature conditions and stimulating sensory nerves such as hearing, taste, smell, and metabolism. It is supposedly excellent for anemia or blood-related conditions. Pink helps activate and eliminate impurities from the blood stream. It also acts as a cleanser, strengthening the veins and arteries.

Practical Suggestion: place a red light or red heat lamp next to your bedstand for use in the evenings.

Yellow

Yellow helps awaken mental inspiration by arousing higher mental function and self-control and has a very enriching effect upon the intellect. It is an excellent color for nervous or nerve-related conditions or ailments, stimulating the solar plexus. Yellow can be used for conditions of the stomach, liver, and
intestines, and can help the pores of the skin by repairing scar tissue. Yellow rays supposedly also have an alkalizing affect that strengthens the nerves. Typical diseases treated by yellow are constipation, gas, liver troubles, diabetes, eczema and nervous exhaustion. Providing clarity of thought, increasing awareness, stimulating interest and curiosity, the color yellow is related to the ability to perceive or understand. So basically, yellow energy connects us to our mental self.

Practical Suggestion: venture outside into the sunlight when you need a burst of creativity.

Green

Green is considered to be the universal healing color. Green is midway in the color spectrum, and because of this, it is said to contain both a physical nature and a spiritual nature. So green can be used for just about any condition in need of healing. When in doubt, green is always a good choice and will help relax muscles, nerves and thoughts. It is neither relaxing nor astringent in its impact. In a more practical sense, green affects blood pressure and all conditions of the heart, and is said to be able to help heal many illnesses of this nature, specifically including heart troubles, decreasing and stabilizing blood pressure, ulcers, headaches, nervous disorders and influenza, and acts as a general tonic.

Practical Suggestion: place a good variety green plants in your home, your office and your bedroom (NASA has a list of some of the best ones here).

Blue

Blue is at the opposite end of the visible spectrum, and can be used for any type of ailments associated with speech, communication, or the throat. It is a mentally relaxing color. Blue has a pacifying effect on the nervous system, which encourages relaxation and makes it ideal for sleep problems. Relaxing, soothing blue rays (not to be confused with the harsh, blue light used in things like light-boxing devices and computer screens) can bring calm and peace to the mind that is worried, excited, or in a constant nervous state. It is a very positive color, indicating truth, loyalty and reliability, as expressed in the sentiment of being “true blue.”

Practical Suggestion: occasionally take a break, lay on your back and gaze up at a blue sky.

Orange

Orange has a freeing action upon the mind, relieving repression (which is apparently why its such a good color for the buy button on a website). Because orange is a blend of red and yellow, it supposedly combines physical energy with mental wisdom, inducing a combination of a physical reaction and mental response. Orange is warm, cheering, and non-constricting, and is considered to be the best emotional stimulant, helping to remove inhibitions and pave independent social behavior. So perhaps orange-tinted glasses would be the ones to wear to a party, or on a rainy day. Physiologically, orange aids in repairing inflammation of the kidneys, gallstones, menstrual cramps, epilepsy, wet cough and all sinus conditions.

Practical Suggestion: wear bright orange colors when you want to go out and do something daring, like an obstacle race.

Violet

Violet is the last color you can see before light passes on to ultra-violet. This color is supposed to be an excellent remedy for neurosis, diseases of the scalp, sciatica, tumors, rheumatism, cerebral-spinal meningitis, concussion, cramps and epilepsy. Wow. Some color experts believe that it also provides nourishment to the cells in the upper brain, which purifies thoughts and feelings, and gives inspiration. Violet is also able to enhance artistic talent and creativity, and Leonardo da Vinci proclaimed that you can increase the power of meditation ten fold by meditating under the gentle rays of violet, as found in church windows.

Practical Suggestion: get some violent tinted glasses for times when you need creativity or artistic inspiration.

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Summary

I'm not saying color and light is going to heal disease in any significant way. But I do think that it affects your energy systems and organs, and I know for a fact that it affects your cognition, your moods and your emotions.

If your nerdy self is interested in the proposed scientific mechanisms of why exposure to these specific frequencies of colors has this type of effect, then you should know that it basically it all comes down to the ability of a light wave to vibrate molecules at a specific frequency.

The paper “A Critical Analysis of Chromotherapy and Its Scientific Evolution” describes it like this,

“The quantum mechanical dipole moment as a result of the absorption of different colors, we conjecture, produces charge quantization phenomena. This review illustrates that the development of science in the field of electromagnetic radiation/energy can be very helpful in discovering new dimensions of this old theory…

…these visual colors with their unique wavelength and oscillations, when combined with a light source and selectively applied to impaired organs or life systems, provide the necessary healing energy required by the body. “

Anyways, go read the paper if you really want to delve into the nitty-gritty science. In the meantime, I'd recommend that, if this stuff fascinates you and you want to dive right into the practical application and experimentation, you start with any or all of the following:

-Install lights from Lighting Science or the Phillips Hue system in your house, then experiment with the colors above to see what kind of feelings and moods you experience.

Read the book “Drunk Tank Pink” by Adam Alder, which is an excellent treatise on color for everything from mood to marketing.

-Play around with a “chromotherapy torch”. I found one on this website. It's basically very similar to a flashlight, but with colored discs.

Check out my sauna article, especially the parts about the chromotherapy sauna I use. If you get the sauna, mess around with the colors while you're in there. It's amazing what you can do to your mood, and how you can choose different colors based on how you are feeling (e.g. red for arousal, green for happiness, yellow for creativity, etc.)

-Play around with visualizing color. My tennis coach used to have us do this in college so that we could close our eyes before a point and visualize a specific color that relaxed us (my color was blue). When he initially taught us this method, we would first  get extremely relaxed using something called “progressive neuromuscular relaxation“, and then once in that state of relaxation, we would imagine our color. This way, during a match, we could instantly replicate that same state of relaxation by imagining our color in the heat of the moment. If you can visualize the color you need, you can access the color and its associated benefits anytime and pretty much anywhere. Just close your eyes, relax your head, neck shoulders, and concentrate on your breathing. Then visualize the desired color  and, still focusing on your breathing, imagine “absorbing” that color and having your body be filled with that color each time you breath in. You can do this for just a few seconds, or for several minutes, just like a meditation session. 

Have you personally experimented with chromotherapy? If so, which color “feels” best for you? Do you have questions, comments or your own practical suggestions about how to use color? Leave your thoughts below and I'll reply.

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More Resources

1. This is a very comprehensive article on Chromotherapy with a lot of science behind it:A Critical Analysis of Chromotherapy and Its Scientific Evolution

2. Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of
complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics, including color therapy.

3. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

References

1. Deppe A. Ocular light therapy: a case study. Aust J Holist Nurs 2000;7(1):41.

2. Geldschlager S. Osteopathic versus orthopedic treatments for chronic epicondylopathia humeri radialis: a randomized controlled trial. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd
2004;Apr, 11(2):93-97.

3. Maher CG. Effective physical treatment of chronic low back pain. Orthop Clin North Am
2004;Jan, 35(1):57-64.

4. Natural Standard Research Collaboration, Chief Editors: Ulbricht C, Basch E, Natural
Standard Herb and Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews, USA. Elsevier/Mosby, 2005.

5. Ohara M, Kawashima Y, Kitajima s, et al. Inhibition Of lung metastasis of B16 melanoma
cells exposed to blue light in mice. Int J Molecular Medicine 2002;10(6):701-705.

6. Wileman SM, Eagles JM, Andrew JE, et al. Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder
in primary care: randomized controlled trial. Br J Psych 2001;178:311-316.

7. Wohlfarth H, Schultz A. The effect of colour psychodynamic environment modification on sound levels in elementary schools. Int J Biosocial Res 2002;(5):12-19.

8. Zifkin BG, Inoue Y. Visual reflex seizures induced by complex stimuliEpilepsia 2004;45(Suppl 1):27-29.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question




9 thoughts on “Pink Makes You Docile, Orange Makes You Buy Stuff, Red Makes You Mad: How To Use Color Light Therapy For Mood, Cognition, Healing & More.

  1. Brian Dennis says:

    Wouldn’t the LED lights be harmful to one’s circadian rhythm due to the flickering of the lights? Would incandescent bulbs be better? Also, would you want to wear blue blocking glasses while going through the chromotherapy. Thanks in advance.

  2. sadia says:

    very informative article …..thanx

  3. Leni says:

    Hi there,

    Have you heard of Atom Bergstrom? He is an expert on colors, among other things – a walking encyclopedia. You may want to interview him.

    Cheers,

    Leni

  4. Another great article Ben! I don't have much experience with this, but a few of my colleagues have really spent a lot of time learning more about this topic.

  5. Iantroy300 says:

    My life started to unravel once the pink shirt that I thought that I would never wear became unwearable after long time usage. I guess it helped to soften my image.

  6. Abdul says:

    I can’t find the pod cast for this

    1. It's not a podcast, it's an article!

  7. Luke Benesin says:

    Benefits of omega 3 fish oil – something’s fishy

    I have been skeptical of supplements for a long period of time. The supplements are generally of low quality, they don’t prevent or cure cancer, they don’t prevent colds, they can’t boost the immune system, and they don’t prevent heart disease.

    Unless one has a chronic disease or is chronically malnourished, there are precious few instances where supplements are necessary. A couple of cases where supplements may be critical include prenatal folic acid supplements to prevent neurological defects in the developing fetus and vitamin D supplements for individuals who do not produce enough endogenous vitamin D. However, just to keep this in perspective, excess folic acid for a long period of time may be correlated with increased rates of certain cancers.

    The benefits of omega 3 fish oil has always been intriguing to me, because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful to improving health, especially cardiovascular health. Omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in fish, as it is produced by the phytoplankton that is the primary food source of much of the prey for larger fish and bio-accumulates up the food chain. However, for humans, there are other sources of omega 3 oils including walnuts and edible seeds, eggs, and other non-fish foods.

    Epidemiological studies done in the late 1980s seem to indicate relatively low death rates due to cardiovascular disease in Inuit populations with high seafood consumption. These results began the rush to consume omega 3 supplements, and created a booming supplement industry.

    However, since publication of those initial studies, much research has been done on seafood and heart disease. And the results don’t give much credence to the cardiovascular benefits of omega 3 fish oils as a useful supplement.

    The science of omega 3 fatty acids

    Omega 3 fatty acids are considered one of the “essential’ fatty acids” because they are important to normal growth in young children and animals, and because humans (and many other mammals) cannot produce omega 3 fatty acids within the body and need to consume it. Generally, humans consume adequate amounts of the fatty acid, and only rarely are cases of deficiency found.

    There are three principal omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The main sources of ALA in the U.S. diet are vegetable oils, particularly canola and soybean oils. ALA can be converted, usually in small amounts, into EPA and DHA in the body. EPA and DHA are found in seafood, including fatty fish (trout, salmon and tuna) and shell fish (including crabs, lobsters, clams and mussels).

    Without getting into a lot of complex biochemistry, omega 3 oils are converted by various organs into key agents that are necessary for development and for regulating some aspects of the immune response. For example, omega 3 fatty acids are converted by enzymes into what are now known as eicosanoids–thromboxanes, prostacyclins, and the leukotrienes. Eicosanoids, which have numerous biological functions such as wound repair, typically have a short lifespan in the blood–they are quickly metabolized by enzymes. However, if the rate of synthesis exceeds the rate of metabolism, the excess eicosanoids may be dangerous.

    Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of bodily functions, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, and cell division and growth. Specifically, DHA is important for brain development and function.

    Once again, just because a little bit of omega 3 in the diet may be good, it’s possible that excess amounts may not be. One of the major myths of the supplement industry is “if a little is good, a lot is better.” There is an assumption that the body is so weak that it constantly needs to be given omega 3 fatty acids or any other supplement to survive. Well, that’s just not supported by science.

    Benefits of omega 3 supplements

    benefits of omega 3 fish oil

    Infant development–Though I can be convinced that there are some occasions where omega 3 supplementation, specifically DHA, might be important, such as for young children. The nutritional value of seafood is particularly important during early development. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume at least 8 ounces but no more than 12 ounces of seafood each week and not eat certain types of seafood that are high in methyl mercury—a toxin that can harm the nervous system of a fetus or young child. The recommendation includes consuming seafood, not supplements.

    Rheumatoid arthritis–A 2012 systematic review concluded that the types of omega-3s found in seafood and fish oil may be modestly helpful in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The review of 23 studies concluded that “a fairly consistent, but modest, benefit of (omega 3 fish oils) on joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness, global assessments of pain and disease activity, and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” The benefits are just on the border of clinically significant, and will not reverse the course of the disease, but it may be helpful.

    Heart disease–Most people take the supplement to prevent heart disease. But what does the science say after nearly 30 years since that initial epidemiological study was done with Inuit populations?

    There have been several studies that have evaluated the potential benefits of omega 3 fish oil supplements, which are rich in EPA and DHA, on heart disease risk. These studies compared the number of cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks or strokes) or the number of deaths in people who were given the supplements with those in people who were given placebos or standard cardiovascular care.

    The results of individual studies were inconsistent with a range of results from clinically useless to somewhat useful. In 2012, two separate meta-analyses (the best kind of evidence available) of these studies were published–the first one analyzed only those studies which included individuals with a history of heart disease, and the other one analyzed studies of individuals both with and without a history of heart disease.

    Neither meta-analysis found convincing evidence of protective benefits for omega 3 fish oil supplementation.

    There are several reasons why omega 3 supplements, even ones rich in EPA and DHA, may not help to prevent heart disease even though a diet rich in seafood that contains the fatty acid may actually have a benefit. Eating seafood frequently might provide enough of these omega 3s to protect the heart–however, more omega 3 may not be better.

    Moreover, some of the benefits of seafood may result from people eating it in lieu of other, less healthful, foods. There is also some evidence that individuals who eat seafood have generally healthier lifestyles, which may be responsible for the lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.

    There are some ongoing clinical trials that are attempting to separate out the clinical “noise” in cardiovascular issues to determine if omega 3 fish oil supplements may help. But we’re years away from any meaningful data, and it would be surprising if this data showed any meaningful clinical data superior to what we know now.

    Other claims–Omega 3 fish oil supplements also have been claimed to prevent or treat other conditions–allergies (meta review says no), asthma (research says no), Crohn’s disease (ineffective), cystic fibrosis (no useful clinical data according to meta-review), kidney disease (no solid clinical evidence), lupus (no evidence), obesity (no evidence), osteoporosis (no conclusive clinical evidence), and ulcerative colitis (no evidence),

    In general, there is no conclusive or, in some cases, negative evidence regarding the benefits of omega 3 fish oil for most health conditions. In fact, even the annoying and wasteful National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which pushes junk medicine under the guise of the National Institutes of Health, provides a fairly negative review of the benefits of omega 3 fish oil.

    One reason to not use omega 3 fish oils

    Most omega 3 fish oils are processed from one type of fish–menhaden, which are a key part of the food chain in the ocean. The highly oily fish (which gives us the omega 3 fatty acids) consumes and redistributes a significant amount of energy within and between Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries, and the coastal ocean (see The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America). Menhaden are not generally eaten by humans, although they had an important role in fertilizing crops in early America.

    The problem has become that fish oil processors harvest over 500 million menhaden a year, and has caused a drop in the population of the fish. Because they are an invaluable prey species for many predatory fish (which are also important game and commercial fishes) such as striped bass, bluefish, mackerel, flounder, tuna, Drum (fish), and sharks. They are also a critical food source for many avian species including egrets, ospreys, seagulls, northern gannets, pelicans, and herons.

    In 2012 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission declared that the menhaden stocks had become depleted because of overfishing, almost all of which was used to manufacture omega 3 supplements for people who consume them with few health benefits. Some important predator species populations have crashed due to lack of menhaden on which they could feed.

    So if you believe that taking your supplements may help you, and think that it does no harm–well, you’d be wrong.

    Conclusions

    If you need omega 3 fish oils–eat fish. The predator species, like salmon and tuna, have very high amounts of omega 3 fish oils. And consuming fish may lead to a healthier diet and lifestyle which will have a better impact on medical concerns like cardiovascular disease.

    And to consume a supplement that has a such a destructive effect on our ocean’s environment to gain no benefit? That’s just ridiculous.

    Why is it that people think that there are simple panaceas to life? Take an omega 3 capsule and declare to the world that you’re healthier? And do that with no concern about the environment around you.

    The omega 3 fish oil industry has grown to over $1.2 billion in sales in the USA (thank you for destroying the fish stocks) based on false and unproven claims. I won’t even mention the laughable belief that somehow the Big Supplement is the epitome of good morals and ethics.

    Most supplements are ridiculous. If someone wants to take echinacea because they believe it will cure a cold, that’s their problem and their money. But omega 3s? Different story. Stop taking it, unless you have a very specific medical condition. Stop it. You’re destroying the environment.

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    Dyerberg J. Coronary heart disease in Greenland Inuit: a paradox. Implications for western diet patterns. Arctic Med Res. 1989 Apr;48(2):47-54. PubMed PMID: 2736000.

    Fassett RG, Gobe GC, Peake JM, Coombes JS. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of kidney disease. Am J Kidney Dis. 2010 Oct;56(4):728-42. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2010.03.009. Epub 2010 May 20. Review. PubMed PMID: 20493605.

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    Kwak SM, Myung SK, Lee YJ, Seo HG; Korean Meta-analysis Study Group. Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acid supplements (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2012 May 14;172(9):686-94. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.262. Review. PubMed PMID: 22493407.

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    Oliver C, Watson H. Omega-3 fatty acids for cystic fibrosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Nov 27;11:CD002201. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002201.pub4. Review. PubMed PMID: 24282091.

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