Health & Wellbeing

Brief exposure to near-infrared light improves deteriorating vision

Brief exposure to near-infrare...
Dr Pardis Kaynezhad (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology) holds a deep red light over her eye, which helps stimulate the mitochondria in her retinal cells
Dr Pardis Kaynezhad (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology) holds a deep red light over her eye, which helps stimulate the mitochondria in her retinal cells
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Dr Pardis Kaynezhad (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology) holds a deep red light over her eye, which helps stimulate the mitochondria in her retinal cells
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Dr Pardis Kaynezhad (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology) holds a deep red light over her eye, which helps stimulate the mitochondria in her retinal cells

As we age, our eyesight naturally declines but a new study has found exposing our retinas to short bursts of deep red light can help deteriorating vision. The research shows just three minutes of exposure to 670-nanometer (long wavelength) deep red light in the morning can improve color contrast vision by nearly 20 percent.

Last year a team of researchers from University College London reported that briefly exposing the eye to a deep red 670-nanometer beam of light on a daily basis for just two weeks improved vision in elderly subjects. This new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, further investigated the phenomenon, looking at the effect of a single three-minute red light exposure.

Inside all our cells are energy factories known as mitochondria, and these tiny factories produce a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the gas that fuels our cells.

As we age, our mitochondrial functions gradually decline. Less ATP is produced, leading to decreased cellular functions. Our retinas age incredibly rapidly and some estimates indicate ATP production by photoreceptor cells in the eye can drop up to 70 percent over a human lifespan.

Glen Jeffrey, lead author on the new study, has been investigating ways to improve mitochondrial function in the retina. Prior animal research revealed certain wavelengths of light can stimulate mitochondrial functions, including amplifying ATP production.

“Mitochondria have specific sensitivities to long wavelength light influencing their performance: longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 900 nm improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production,” Jeffery explains.

Twenty subjects were recruited and exposed to three minutes of 670-nm deep red light between 8 am and 9 am, and vision was measured using a "Chroma Test" designed to assess color contrast.

On average, the researchers detected a 17 percent improvement in "Chroma Test" scores several hours after the red light exposure. In older subjects the improvement was greater than 20 percent and the benefit was found to last at least one week.

Interestingly, the researchers conducted the same experiment with a smaller cohort several months later but delivered the exposure in the early afternoon. No improvement at all was detected, suggesting circadian cycles play a significant role in the mitochondrial response to deep red light.

“Using a simple LED device once a week, recharges the energy system that has declined in the retina cells, rather like re-charging a battery,” notes Jeffrey. “And morning exposure is absolutely key to achieving improvements in declining vision: as we have previously seen in flies, mitochondria have shifting work patterns and do not respond in the same way to light in the afternoon – this study confirms this.”

The researchers are cautious to point out that a huge variability in vision improvement was seen between individuals in the study. It is suggested there are unknown variables that could be influencing the success of this therapy so further work with larger cohorts will be needed to better tease out who this treatment will work best for and how to optimally deliver the light exposure.

Nevertheless, Jeffrey is optimistic that once the therapy is refined it could become a cheap and easy way to improve vision in the elderly. The technology is safe and the intervention is easy, making this a promising way to push back on age-related vision decline.

“Given its simplicity, I am confident an easy-to-use device can be made available at an affordable cost to the general public,” Jeffrey concludes. “In the near future, a once a week three-minute exposure to deep red light could be done while making a coffee, or on the commute listening to a podcast, and such a simple addition could transform eye care and vision around the world.”

The new study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University College London

8 comments
8 comments
guzmanchinky
Would exposing skin to this light help as well someday? Or does it just work on vision cells?
Robert Kowalski
"Interestingly, the researchers conducted the same experiment with a smaller cohort several months later but delivered the exposure in the early afternoon. No improvement at all was detected, suggesting circadian cycles play a significant role in the mitochondrial response to deep red light."

Either this or first result was just effect of randomness in tests.
Username
Of course the problem is going to be a plethora of cheap devices that don't emit the right frequency and no way for the consumer to evaluate them.
William Lee
Perhaps Prof. Russell Foster, of Cambridge's Ophthalmology Dept. can postulate as to why Early Morning exposure treatment seems more effective than afternoon treatments. His Specialty was once determining which Eye Features and Mechanisms govern Circadian Rhythms.
oldpistachio
The red part of the item that the lady is peering into in the photo looks A LOT like the LED flashlight Harbor Freight Tools was giving away for free (with coupon) a while back. I just googled "spectrum visible light" and it said that light from 380 to 700 is typically visible.

So!? Since 670 nm is the wavelength in question --- wouldn't any extremely red light do the trick? Maybe the white tube of the miracle gizmo is simply a filter the allows only 670 nm light to pass? How about just buy a red light bulb?
Trylon
Sounds pretty easy. I may pick up some widely available 670nm "deep red" LEDs and cobble them together on the inside rim of a pair of mirrored ski goggles with a USB cable so I can keep doing other things during those three minutes. Light therapy while you brush your teeth. Only problem is the only LEDs I trust to accurately meet the 670nm spec would be Cree or Lumileds, and those are only available in relatively high output versions. Maybe just use two to four LEDs per eye, with a red diffuser to spread the light out.
MarkGovers
I read a study years ago on ScienceDaily, based on my recall...a few rats were purposely blinded with methanol, then their eyes were treated with Infrared light, (I don't recall saying whether in the mornings only), after some period, all of the rats regained their eyesight. I believe they talked about increased circulation of nutrients to the eyes. Alternatively, I've read that the eyelids of humans naturally filter UV light and allow Infrared light to pass through, and in my experience is that we can look at the sun with our eyes closed to gain this spectrum.
Gizzy Magpie
The cynic in me says the researchers will soon be selling a red LED eyepiece, probably called something like the Ocufix.

In my 40 years of research, I've learned to never trust a single experiment. We're in the middle of a "replication crisis" where well over half of published research cannot be replicated. Be skeptical.