The simple of act of staring at a deep-red or near infrared light source for about three minutes was found to be enough to improve color vision in those suffering from failing eyesight.
The potential treatment allows the mitochondria in the human retina to produce more ATP, the principal energy currency of all cells, and offers a chance of keeping good color vision long into our golden years.
Just a single short trial run in 24 people was enough to improve their color vision for multiple days up to a week, and was most effective when performed in the morning. This is because the wavelength of light that was found to be effective is only present in our Earth sky at that time of day, and it’s also the time when the retinal-mitochondria produce the most ATP.
Making cells more energy-efficient can help with many different issues, says Glen Jeffery at University College London, who led the research focused on the retina—a patch of light-sensitive tissues at the back of the eye that have more mitochondrial density than any other cell. Inside, the retina turns light into pictures with two pieces of equipment, rods and cones.
Rods are very sensitive cells responsible for perceiving black and white, while cones are built for richly-lit environments and are responsible for the perception of color. Tests were made after the short light exposure by asking trialists to identify colored letters of a similar color to the background paper.
Their results have doctors, but also businesses, very excited at a potential at-home treatment for reduced sensitivity to color in old age.
“We demonstrate that we can significantly improve cone mediated color contrast thresholds for a week using a single 3 minute light exposure by an average of 17% and in some older subjects by > 20%,” the authors write in their corresponding paper, published in Nature journal.
“This simple and highly economic intervention applied at the population level will significantly impact on the quality of life in the elderly and likely result in reduced social costs that arise from problems associated with reduced vision.”
New Scientist reports that other researchers believe the treatment could be applied to a much wider spectrum of ailments, as boosting the productivity of mitochondria is a relevant treatment for all kinds of age-related problems.
Mitochondria “turn on all the systems in the cell that make the cell work better,” says Janice Eells, who is currently advising a firm called LumiThera that’s attempting to bring light therapy products known as “photobiomodulators” to market.
Light therapy of different colors has been curiously shown to have benefits in other ways. Dr. Mohab Ibrahim at Tucson University Medical Center is using green light exposure in dark rooms to treat migraines. And flashing lights set to 40 hertz have been shown to clear away tau protein “plaque” that cause Alzheimer’s Disease by mimicking the brain wave oscillations of deep, slow-wave sleep.
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