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Daily 3-minute red light exposure could improve aging vision

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No one is spared from the decrepitude of old age. However, not all our tissue and body parts age equally. The retina, for instance, ages faster than the rest of the body due to its high energy requirements. Don’t book an optometrist’s appointment just yet, though.

According to a new study, daily red light therapy may slow down ocular degeneration or even improve eyesight. The non-invasive technique only takes three minutes and consists of shining deep red light at a specific wavelength into the dominant eye.

Researchers at University College London tested the therapy on 12 men and 12 women aged 28 to 72 who had no prior history of eye disease. After an initial assessment of the participants’ cone and rod sensitivity, the researchers flashed a ‘deep red’ light beam from an LED at a wavelength of 670nm.

The therapy was administered for three minutes a day over the course of two weeks. The younger participants didn’t notice any change in their eyesight, but the older volunteers claimed “significant improvements”. According to the results published in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, some of the older participants experienced a 20% increase in their ability to detect colors. This was particularly true for shades of blue, which are the most likely to ‘fade’ as we pass the age of 40.

“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.”

The researchers believe that the red light frequencies boost the mitochondria, or powerhouses of the cells, found in the retina, thus negating some of the effects of old age.

Like in all other cells in the body, the mitochondria are responsible for providing energy. When cells in the eyes lack energy, vision deteriorates. Previous studies on flies, bees, and mice, also showed that shining deep red light of specific wavelengths can charge the mitochondria and improve vision.

As a caveat, this study’s findings are limited by the relatively small sample size. Nevertheless, it’s remarkable that such a simple procedure could be so effective.

“Western populations are ageing rapidly and this is going to be a major issue in the future. We need to gear up for this,” Jeffery told Newsweek.. “If you can’t see clearly you can’t read or watch TV. You also tend to fall down and break bones. Our lights and their application in ageing is a step in this direction.”

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