Red Light and Vision
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As we Boomers age out, the issue of declining vision is becoming a significant concern.
This natural aspect of aging is far worse than it would have been in the past, since our constant blue light exposure (from computer screens and digital devices) is worsening the problem (and affecting younger people as well).
However, a recent discovery, published in the Journals of Gerontology, may offer an inexpensive, easy to use eye therapy.
According to the lead author, Professor Glen Jeffery (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology), “As you age your visual system declines significantly, particularly once over 40…Your retinal sensitivity and your colour vision are both gradually undermined.”
He went on to explain the purpose of the study: “To try to stem or reverse this decline, we sought to reboot the retina’s ageing cells with short bursts of longwave light.”
Around the time we hit 40, the cells in the retina begin to age, and how fast they age is determined, in part, by how fast the mitochondria in those cells begin to decline.
Our mitochondria produce cellular energy (ATP) throughout the body and, there is a great amount of mitochondrial density in the photoreceptor cells of the retina, which have high energy requirements. Therefore, the retina ages faster than the other organs, resulting in a major decline in photoreceptor function, due to the reduction in ATP that they require to perform the function of providing good vision.
Previous studies have found that, in bumblebees, fruit flies, and mice, significant improvements in retinal photoreceptors can be induced when their eyes are exposed to long wavelength, deep red light.
Professor Jeffery explained why this occurs: “Mitochondria have specific light absorbance characteristics influencing their performance: longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 1000nm are absorbed and improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production.”
At the beginning of this study, the 24 people enrolled (half male, half female, and aged between 28 and 72), all of whom were free of any eye diseases, had their eyes tested for the sensitivity of their photoreceptors.
Subjects were then given a small LED torch to take home, and were requested to look into its deep red (670 nanometre) light beam for three minutes daily, for two weeks. They were then re-tested for their rod and cone (photoreceptors) sensitivity.
While gazing into this light had no measurable impact in the younger participants, among those 40 years and older, significant improvements in vision were observed.
In these older subjects colour contrast sensitivity (the ability to detect colours) improved by up to 20%, particularly in the blue part of the colour spectrum (which is more vulnerable in ageing). The ability to see in low light (rod sensitivity) also improved significantly in those aged around 40 and over.
Professor Jeffery said: “Our study shows that it is possible to significantly improve vision that has declined in aged individuals using simple brief exposures to light wavelengths that recharge the energy system that has declined in the retina cells, rather like recharging a battery…Our devices cost about £12 to make, so the technology is highly accessible to members of the public.” (Study)
How Do I Get One of Those Lights?
I did a brief search looking for a 670 nm frequency LED red light for home use, but found nothing commercially available in that specific frequency. There are units on Amazon providing 660 and 850 nm but they all come with safety goggles, and no suggestion that it is safe to look into them.
However, on the Platinum Therapy Lights website I found this: “Red light is known for its beneficial properties for the body, including the eyes. Red light (630-660nm) and near-infrared light (NIR) (810-850nm) are considered the most therapeutic wavelengths with wide-reaching applications. Light treatment uses light-emitting diode (LED) devices that shine red or NIR light into the eye: a painless and safe way to administer the therapeutic benefits of red light.”
They go into detail about the benefits of red light for vision, also suggesting that “red light appears to be especially effective in treating age-related ocular disorders such as macular degeneration and glaucoma”.
However, they also include this disclaimer: “It should only be administered by a doctor and not self-administered at home.”
Now, Platinum Therapy sells light products designed to bathe the entire body in red light, but their product (as indicated above) peaks at 660 nanometres, and the study we looked at was based on a 670 nanometre wavelength.
So, basically, if this idea interests you, there is more research to be done before you run out and find a red light to gaze into. And here is one place to start.
This is an interesting website that sells red light therapy devices. They have a story about a customer who used their (free) red screensaver and found that it dramatically improved her deteriorating vision. But, even more, on this website a NeuroOptometrist gives a testimonial about how looking into their Redjuvenator light therapy device did cure her vision problem. After reading through this site, though I found it a little bit heavy on marketing, I think if I were to buy a red light device, I would try this one. (Link)
Here is a detailed, highly referenced article on red light and eye health, which includes clinical studies indicating red light can also treat glaucoma, optic nerve injuries, and reduce ocular inflammation. (Article)
For more on the subject of eye health see my older blog A Perspective on Vision.