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How the man who gave us Corn Flakes also introduced the world to Light Therapy – Dr John Kellogg, advocate for healthy living

Monday, February 26, 2018

On this day, 26 February, in 1852, the American, John Harvey Kellogg was born.  His name is universally-known as the brand of breakfast cereals. But his lesser-known inventions are just as important today. 

Kellogg was a man of many talents – he was a physician, surgeon, nutritionist, inventor, health activist and businessman.  He, along with his younger and more commercially-minded brother Will, invented the breakfast cereal Corn Flakes in the 1880s and patented a process for making peanut butter.  He is also one of the earliest adopters and advocates for the benefits of light therapy. He is credited as the "inventor of the electric light bath".

Photo of Kellogg with light therapy bath.

John Kellogg became Medical Director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, owned and operated by the Seventh Day Adventist church.  He believed in the holistic treatment for health, and regularly held classes there on food preparation, breathing exercises and, with his keen interest in light therapy, started experimenting with light baths.

Kellogg was a staunch supporter for phototherapy, and believed in the health benefits of light. Partly motivated by the overcast skies of Michigan, Kellogg experimented with developing treatments using artificial light. He believed in the value of the electric light bulb to provide heat penetration for treating bodily disorders.

He devised the first incandescent light bath in 1891 treating many patients at the Sanitarium.  In 1896, Kellogg patented the radiant-heat bath in the United States. Although not very fashionable in his home country, it was the Germans who embraced the benefits of light therapy and soon his invention was being manufactured and sold in Germany and in neighbouring Austria.  By the end of the 1890s, light therapy was gaining popularity across Europe, and light baths were installed in many of the royal palaces. In some places they began replacing the traditional Turkish bath.  His invention, the horizontal light bath, even saw its way onto the Titanic!

Many of Kellogg’s weird and wonderful inventions are now on display at the Historic Adventist Village Discovery Center, in Battle Creek, Michigan, about an hours’ drive from Michigan’s capital, Lansing.

Similar to the tanning or sunbed that may be more familiar to people today, people would buy or go to a therapy centre for a light therapy session.  Some hospitals also were installing light beds, and offering light therapy to treat acute and chronic diseases. Among the rich and famous known to have used his light baths were inventor of the electric light bulb Thomas Edison, pianist and composer Percy Grainger and aviator Amelia Earhart.

By 1910, Kellogg started to record his work, and published a book: “Light Therapeutics: a practical manual of phototherapy for the student and the practitioner, with special reference to the incandescent electric-light bath". In it, Kellogg describes the use of light therapy to the abdomen, spine, chest, shoulders, hip, knees and other joints.

Kellogg wrote:

“The electric-light bath prolonged to the extent of producing vigorous perspiration should be employed two or three times a week. Tanning the whole surface of the body means the arc light will be an excellent means of improving the patient’s general vital condition.”

Today, light therapy is widely used by medical practitioners, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other health professionals around the world.  Many clinical studies have proven the benefits of light therapy for a range conditions from pain, sprains, arthritis and also in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

John Kellogg was a visionary thinker, well ahead of his time. His inventions and ideas endure more than 150 years later. More and more health professionals are now supporters of phototherapy and low level laser therapy. Just as Kellogg knew in the 1880s, the benefits for patients span a range of symptoms and conditions. However, his large sun bed and light baths are now refined and advanced to a small hand-held low level laser therapy device you can use at home.

So next time you sit down to eat your Corn Flakes for breakfast, you may like to ponder over the amazing benefits of light therapy.


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