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Red light treatment could save your aging eyes

Published Jul 1st, 2020 5:41PM EDT
red light eye treatment
Image: Suren Manvelyan/Shutterstock

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  • Researchers discover that simple red light may be enough to recharge a person’s vision late in life, making them better able to detect colors.
  • The research tasked two dozen people with using a red light eye treatment for just 3 minutes per day, and even that short amount of time was enough to produce measurable results.
  • The researchers say this low-cost treatment option could be an easy way for older individuals to keep their vision working well.

As someone who has been forced to have cataract surgery at the ripe old age of… 35, I know how big of a bummer it is when our eyes decide that they’ve done enough work for a lifetime and start to shut down. We know how light can damage an eye, and how gazing at the Sun can permanently leave you with malfunctioning peepers, but new research suggests that a certain kind of light may actually have a beneficial effect.

The research, which was published in the Journals of Gerontology, reveals that certain wavelengths of light appear to have a therapeutic effect on aging eyes. More specifically, red light in small amounts can potentially reverse vision problems over time.

As the scientists describe in their study, a total of 24 people were recruited for the research, with half being men and the other half women. The volunteers ranged in age from 28 to 72, and none of them had been previously diagnosed with any diseases that might affect their vision. Nevertheless, they were each given a special light that produced a red glow which they were tasked with staring at for just a few minutes per day.

Easy enough, right? In fact, it sounds so simple that it’s hard to imagine it would have any effect on a person’s vision one way or the other. Remarkably, it did, and the researchers noted that the study participants over the age of 40 showed measurable increases in their ability to discern one color from another, suggesting that age-related vision deterioration could potentially be reversed with this very simple type of light therapy.

“As you age your visual system declines significantly, particularly once over 40,” Professor Glen Jeffery, lead author of the study, said in a statement. ‘Your retinal sensitivity and your colour vision are both gradually undermined, and with an ageing population, this is an increasingly important issue. To try to stem or reverse this decline, we sought to reboot the retina’s ageing cells with short bursts of longwave light.”

But why does red light specifically seem to work so well?

“Mitochondria have specific light absorbance characteristics influencing their performance,” Jeffrey says. “Longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 1000nm are absorbed and improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production.” The light given to the volunteers produced light that is 670nm in wavelength, just over the limit to be absorbed by the mitochondria and “recharge” the eyes.

“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,” Jeffery says.