Medical

Deep red light reboots aging retinas like "recharging a battery"

Deep red light reboots aging r...
Researchers have found that staring at deep red light for a few minutes a day can improve vision in those over 40
Researchers have found that staring at deep red light for a few minutes a day can improve vision in those over 40
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Researchers have found that staring at deep red light for a few minutes a day can improve vision in those over 40
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Researchers have found that staring at deep red light for a few minutes a day can improve vision in those over 40
A simple LED torch used to emit deep red light and treat vision decline as part of the UCL study
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A simple LED torch used to emit deep red light and treat vision decline as part of the UCL study

As our bodies age we can expect different components to deteriorate in performance, however, not all do so at the same pace. The retinas are one example of a part that ages sooner than most, but a new study has demonstrated how a form of deep red light therapy can help arrest this slide. Hitting the eyeball with just the right wavelength of light has been found to “recharge the energy system” and bring significant improvements to vision in those over 40.

The study conducted at University College London (UCL) looked at the potential for manipulating the performance of mitochondria, which are often referred to as the powerhouses of cells. Like they do in cells throughout the body in the body, mitochondria act as the energy factory of retinal cells by producing the energy-rich molecule, adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

The retina’s photoreceptor cells have particularly high energy needs, and are therefore where a high density of mitochondria can be found. This contributes to the disproportionate rate of age-related decline in the eyes, which begins to accelerate at around 40 years and causes a significant decline in photoreceptor function.

"As you age your visual system declines significantly, particularly once over 40,” says lead author, Glen Jeffery. “Your retinal sensitivity and your color vision are both gradually undermined, and with an aging population, this is an increasingly important issue. To try to stem or reverse this decline, we sought to reboot the retina's aging cells with short bursts of longwave light."

The UCL researchers had previously conducted experiments in which they found that exposing the eyes of mice, bumblebees and fruit flies to 670-nanometer deep red light resulted in significant improvements to their vision.

"Mitochondria have specific light absorbance characteristics influencing their performance: longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 1000 nanometers are absorbed and improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production," says Professor Jeffery.

Next, the researchers turned their attention to human subjects. This round of experiments involved 24 healthy participants between the ages of 28 and 72, who underwent examinations at the outset of the study. This meant testing the sensitivity of the retina’s rods, which handle peripheral vision and low-light scenarios, and its cones, which mediate color vision.

A simple LED torch used to emit deep red light and treat vision decline as part of the UCL study
A simple LED torch used to emit deep red light and treat vision decline as part of the UCL study

All of the subjects were given a small LED torch that emits a deep red 670-nanometer beam, and were asked to look into it for three minutes a day across a two-week period. Follow-up testing revealed that the therapy had no impact on the younger subjects, but brought significant benefits for those 40 and over.

The ability to detect colors improved by as much as 20 percent in some of those subjects, with the most significant gains observed in the blue part of the spectrum that is most susceptible to age-related decline. Rod sensitivity was also significantly improved in those 40 and over, albeit not by quite as much.

"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 re-charging a battery,” says Jeffery. ”The technology is simple and very safe, using a deep red light of a specific wavelength, that is absorbed by mitochondria in the retina that supply energy for cellular function. Our devices cost about £12 (US$14) to make, so the technology is highly accessible to members of the public."

The research was published in the Journals of Gerontology.

Source: University College London via EurekAlert

24 comments
Freddie Ramm
Could the frequency of light be displayed by a computer screen or mobile phone?
Russell Gambier
Sounds great. Where can you buy these special torches?
sidmehta
Wish it explained how this works and whether this deep red light is found anywhere in nature -- perhaps during sunrise or sunset?
paul314
This light isn't part of the usual spectrum coming into our eyes? Or does it for some reason have to shine alone?
CraigAllenCorson
Could a person not buy a pair of glasses with lenses that allow only 670 nanometer light to pass through them, and then just use any light source?
bdsmith
Hunters and astronomers use red flashlights. Are these the right frequency and intensity? What intensity did the research use ?
C Morgan
This is interesting. Anyone given a thought that the mitochondria in other cells might react the same?
Not suggesting that it would be the magic to restore my 76 year old body, but who knows.
PAV
I too would like to know the intensity, and also where to get this torch.
Expanded Viewpoint
Going by the photo there, all that they did was slip a short piece of PVC water pipe over one of those Chinese made LED flashlights (torches for the Limeys out there!!) they sell at harbor Freight Tools, and put a piece of transparent red plastic sheet inside. UCL should have given out where they sourced the plastic sheeting from, so those who wish to do so can duplicate their efforts.
Some of the L shaped military flashlights (torches) they use here in the Colonies come with different colored filters in the base cap. Maybe the red one is what we should be using?

Randy
Expanded Viewpoint
Just now I checked my military style flashlight (torch) and it's a Fulton MX-99/U and it came with three red lenses and two clear diffuser lenses. The diffusers make the light much more tolerable to look at. If your dry cells are brand new, you would probably want to stack in more red lenses and or diffusers to attenuate the brightness so you don't do more harm than good by staring into the light.
You can find these lights on eBay easily, and are quite the bargain there!!

Randy