In a pilot study, first of its kind, the scientists have found that a few minutes of looking into a deep red light could have a dramatic effect on preventing eyesight decline as we age. These findings were published in The Journals of Gerontology.
Scientists working on the project have said that if the results are replicated in future studies, and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, this method of eye disease prevention would open a new era of science. This method could provide people with a safe easy home-based therapy, that could prevent eye damage.
According to the experts this therapy can provide people with a new layer of protection against the natural aging processes that diminishes the eyes’ sensitivity to light and ability to distinguish colors.
This therapy is based on the mitochondrial theory of aging. According to this theory over the years as humans and animals age they accumulate damage in their mitochondria and mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are like batteries in our cells.
One way to lessen the severity of the accumulated damage is the light. Mitochondria absorb longer wavelengths of light, making the near-infrared light their preferred choice to test.
This red light stimulates the mitochondria, prevents damage and charges up these natural batteries in cells. Because mitochondria are implicated in a broad range of diseases, insights like these could help lead to new treatments for diseases including Parkinson’s, diabetes, and eye diseases.
Our retinas (part of the eye) are full of mitochondria, with the highest concentration of mitochondria of any part of the body. That is why the researchers used red light to see if it prevented damage in the eyes and decline of the eyesight.
In a small pilot study, the scientists tested their theory. They recruited 24 participants including, 12 men and 12 women, whose ages ranged from 28 to 72. Each participant was given a small handheld flashlight that emitted a red light with a wavelength of 670 nanometers and were asked to spend three minutes each day looking into the light over a period of two weeks.
There are two types of receptors in human eyes, called cones and rods. Cones are photo receptor cells that detect color and rods are retina cells that specialize in helping us see in dim light.
The team on the project measured the cone function in subjects’ eyes by having them identify colored letters with low contrast. And they measured their eyes’ rod sensitivity by asking them to detect light signals in the dark.
The results showed that there was a 14 percent improvement in the ability to see colors, or cone color contrast sensitivity, for all the people who participated. The most promising results were observed in study participants over age 40. For people above 40, the cone color contrast sensitivity rose by 20 percent by the end of the study.
That was not it, people above 40 also saw significant increases in rod threshold, which means they could see better in low light settings.
In this study, there was no control group and these results will only be reliable if this therapy is also efficient in reproducing results in double blind, placebo-controlled studies, for longer duration of time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults over the age of 40 are at the highest risk for eye diseases such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
These diseases can occur in young people, but their prevalence increases with age. At the beginning stages, these conditions are treatable, although they can start creeping in before symptoms appear.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends increasing regular eye exams to every two to four years for people once they are of age 40, and to get exams everyone to two years after the age of 65.
This is not the first time this therapy has seemed to improve eyesight. In studies conducted on fruit flies and mice, red light has shown to improve the functioning of mitochondria.
In a study, near-infrared light was shown to increase energy production, improve mobility and extend the lifespan of fruit flies. In another study of visible red light at the edge of infrared, there was 25% improvement in the functioning of retinas in mice reported.