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Red Light Therapy and Eye Health

Red Light Therapy for Eye Health and Protecting Against Vision Loss

Age-related macular degeneration affects nearly 200 million people worldwide. [1] It’s a common condition that occurs as eyes age and core ATP energy production decreases in the cells of your eyes. Declining ocular cells lead to inflammation, cell degeneration, and eventually visual decline and the day-to-day problems that come with it. There is currently not a cure. [2]

One of the primary mechanisms of action for red light therapy is that natural light stimulates the mitochondria in your cells to produce more ATP energy. Red light therapy works against the main factor in macular degeneration, helping the cells in your eyes work efficiently and produce energy, even as you age.

The short version is this: light therapy delivers safe, concentrated wavelengths of natural light directly to the mitochondria in your cells. These red and near infrared wavelengths of light reduce oxidative stress, so your body is able to make more usable ATP energy to power itself. This increases function, speeds healing, and lowers inflammation & pain, as demonstrated in numerous peer-reviewed studies.

Research Shows Red Light Prevents Against Age-Related Vision Loss

In recent years, we’ve learned much more about the possibilities of red-light treatments for eyes and vision. In 2018, a revealing longer-term study published conclusions after following 33 patients for 5 years. The average age of participants was 67, and results were monitored for five years. Patients who received red light treatments experienced:

  • Significant increases in visual acuity, or vision sharpness as measured by how well they could make out distant letters and numbers.
  • Significant decreases in edema and hemorrhaging, which means less distorted vision and broken blood vessels.
  • No negative side effects, as is common in nearly every study about red light. [3]

Laboratory studies on red light and the vision of mammals have confirmed two major promising effects that protect eyes from vision loss:

  • Reduced Inflammation: Ocular inflammation, common with any injury or stress, increases oxidative stress and decreases ATP energy production, eventually leading to vision loss. Clinical data demonstrate that red light therapy reduces inflammation in the eyes. [2,4] Hundreds of other peer-reviewed studies have documented how red-light treatments reduce inflammation across the body.
  • More ATP Energy: Every cell produces ATP energy all the time to power your body. ATP is critical for cells to survive and function, and the stakes are especially high for ocular cells responsible for your vision. Several studies show that red light therapy increases ATP production in eyes. [4,5]

Reduced inflammation and increased ATP energy production is an impactful combination for eye health and vision, warding off the gradual fading of cells and function that leads to vision loss as you get older.

Red Light therapy for Treatment of Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa is the most common cause of inherited blindness. This degenerative disease breaks down retinal cells and leads to difficulty seeing at night, a loss of peripheral vision, and can eventually lead to blindness. Researchers in 2012 examined the use of red-light therapy in a mammal model of retinitis pigmentosa, finding that natural light treatments promoted mitochondrial integrity and function, prevented photoreceptor cell death, and preserved retinal function. To establish the safety of red-light therapy, researchers conducted the trial with 670nm red light and 830nm near infrared light. They found both to be safe for clinical use, and even found the near infrared light “exerted a robust retino-protective effect.” [6]

Research Shows Red Light Therapy is an Effective Natural Glaucoma Treatment

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that results in optic nerve injuries and cause vision loss over time. Glaucoma affects more than 60 million people, and chances of developing it increase as you age. [7] Because there is no cure for glaucoma, managing symptoms and vision loss is the focus of current treatments, often for many years.

Fortunately, red light therapy is proving in recent trials to be a safe, effective, and natural treatment for glaucoma, with none of the discomfort or side effects of prescription medications, eye drops, or surgery.

Red light treatments improve the effects of glaucoma and prevent vision loss by protecting the cornea and retina, especially against the ocular pressure and fluid buildup, which is one of the main complications that occurs with glaucoma cases. Clear liquid builds up in the front of the eye, and can cause damage to the optic nerve, which leads to the death of eye cells and with it the gradual loss of vision.

Protecting the Cornea: Corneal cells, the ones tasked with keeping the cornea transparent so light can enter, are especially at risk from this pressure buildup. A 2017 study determined that red light therapy treatments absorbed by patients’ eyes reduced this damage to corneal cells and even promoted their growth, enhancing the cells’ survival chances and protecting against glaucoma-related vision loss. [8]

Protecting the Retina: Similar results were reported in a 2016 trial that analyzed retinal cells. Your retina is responsible for creating your visual perception and sending messages to the brain. Without this incredible cellular function, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of our world visually. In laboratory models of mammal vision, researchers found that red light therapy helped protect retinal cells when they were threatened by ocular pressure. [9]

On top of this research, there’s still much to learn. One researcher systematically reviewed studies focusing on mitochondrial function in retinal cells and suggested that red light therapy is more effective at reaching these cells than topical ointments, while also being non-toxic and non-invasive. [10]

Red Light Therapy Prevents Further Damage after Optic Nerve Injuries

One of the biggest threats to eye health and vision is pressure on the optic nerve. Our optic nerve connects our eyes to our brain. When pressure builds in the eye, the optic nerve can get damaged and lose function. Once the optic nerve is damaged, eye cells begin to die, which results in loss of vision.

A 2016 study examined red light’s effects on ex vivo cells after an optic nerve injury. Researchers found that natural light effectively prevented cell death in retina cells in cases where the the optic nerve was severed. [11]

Building on this ex vivo research, multiple laboratory studies found red light therapy to have substantial healing effects after an optic nerve injury, including:

  • Restoring Vision: Normal vision function was restored and tested by optokinetic response, which is the eye’s natural response to following a moving object. [12]
  • Early Cell Survival: Retinal cells in their first week survived at 20% higher rates with red light treatments, leading to more vision recovery potential. [13]
  • Protection from Secondary Degeneration: Secondary degeneration happens to cells located nearby an initial injury. In this case, retinal cells near an optic nerve injury. With three months of treatment, red light therapy protected these vulnerable cells. [14]

Based on the clinical evidence, red light therapy is a promising natural treatment that can heal after an optic nerve injury and protect from related harm.

Healing Eye Injuries with Natural Red Light Therapy

Our eyes are extremely sensitive, and even small objects and injuries can cause lasting damage that erodes vision. Red light therapy has been shown to help heal many types of eye injuries, such as:

Corneal Burns, which are painful and can be difficult to heal. A 2016 study examined 50 rabbits with corneal burns and found that those treated with near infrared light at 810nm had reduced inflammation and a lower loss of repair cells (keratocyte). [15]

Corneal Foreign Bodies are foreign objects on or in the cornea, like a small piece of wood, plastic, glass, or sand. A study of 40 patients with corneal foreign body conditions found that red light therapy shortened the healing period significantly, by 42%. [16]

Red light’s healing effects on other types of injuries and wounds has also been well-documented.

Recovering from Ocular Implants with Red Light Therapy

For serious cases involving the loss of an eye due to disease or injury, it’s common for a person to receive an ocular implant, or artificial eye. In one controlled clinical trial of people who had undergone ocular prosthesis surgery, those treated with red light therapy sessions healed up to 10 days faster than those treated with standard drugs. In a similar study conducted on rabbits, researchers found that red light promoted healing and reduced inflammation. [17]

Conclusion: Red Light Helps Protect and Heal Your Eyes

Red light therapy treatments, with both red and near infrared wavelengths, aren’t just safe for eyes. They’re also a proven way to help heal eye injuries, reduce inflammation, and protect against vision loss, as shown in numerous peer-reviewed clinical studies. Red light therapy has shown especially positive results for people with glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

Scientific Sources and Medical References:

[1] BrightFocus Foundation

[2] Kokkinopoulos I, Colman A, et al. Age-related retinal inflammation is reduced by 670 nm light via increased mitochondrial membrane potential. Neurobiology of Aging. 2013 Feb.

[3] Koev K, Avramov L, et al. Five-year follow-up of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Journal of Physics. 2018.

[4] Calaza KC, Kam JH, et al. Mitochondrial decline precedes phenotype development in the complement factor H mouse model of retinal degeneration but can be corrected by near infrared light. Neurobiology of Aging. 2015 Jun.

[5] Sivapathasuntharam C, Sivaprasad S, et al. Aging retinal function is improved by near infrared light (670 nm) that is associated with corrected mitochondrial decline.Neurobiology of Aging. 2017 Apr.

[6] Gopalakrishnan, S. Photobiomodulation in Inherited Retinal Degeneration. 2012. Theses and Dissertations. 4.

[7] BrightFocus Foundation

[8] Núñez-Álvarez C, Del Olmo-Aguado S, et al. Near infra-red light attenuates corneal endothelial cell dysfunction in situ and in vitro. Experimental eye Research. 2017 jun.

[9] Del Olmo-Aguado S, Núñez-Álvarez C, et al. Red light of the visual spectrum attenuates cell death in culture and retinal ganglion cell death in situ. Acta Ophthalmologica 2019 Feb.

[10] Osborne NN, Núñez-Álvarez C, et al. European Journal of Pharmacology. Glaucoma: Focus on mitochondria in relation to pathogenesis and neuroprotection. 2016 Sep.

[11] Beirne K, Rozanowska M, et al. Red Light Treatment in an Axotomy Model of Neurodegeneration. Photochemistry and Photobiology. 2016 Jul.

[12] Fitzgerald M, Bartlett CA, et al. Near infrared light reduces oxidative stress and preserves function in CNS tissue vulnerable to secondary degeneration following partial transection of the optic nerve. Journal of Neurotrauma. 2010 Nov.

[13] So KF, Leung MC. Effects of low level laser treatment on the survival of axotomized retinal ganglion cells in adult Hamsters. Neural Regeneration Research. 2014 Nov.

[14] Szymanski CR, Chiha W, et al. Paranode Abnormalities and Oxidative Stress in Optic Nerve Vulnerable to Secondary Degeneration: Modulation by 670 nm Light Treatment. 2013 June.

[15] Rezaei Kanavi M, Tabeie F, et al. Short-term effects of extremely low-frequency pulsed electromagnetic field and pulsed low-level laser therapy on rabbit model of corneal alkali burn. Experimental Eye Research. 2016 Apr.

[16] Koev K, Avramov L, Borisova E. He-Ne low level laser therapeutic applications for treatment of corneal trauma. 16th International School on Quantum Electronics: Laser Physics and Applications. 2011 Jan.

[17] Xu QH, Zhao C, et al. Helium-neon laser therapy in the treatment of hydroxyapatite orbital implant exposure: A superior option. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. 2015 Jun.

Categories: General Health, Light Therapy, Science & StudiesDecember 16, 2019