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Rotlichtdusche für die Augen

Red Light for Eye Health in Advanced Age

Eye health and vision are crucial to our quality of life, but our eyesight often deteriorates with age. Due to its high metabolic activity, the retina ages much faster than many other organs. But what if we could slow down or even prevent these age-related changes? One fascinating approach to this is red light therapy, which has the potential to promote eye health and improve vision in old age.

Eine Frau erhält eine Rotlicht-Behnadlung für die Gesichtshaut
Red light can combat acne and stimulate collagen production. It is therefore often used for cosmetic applications.

Red Light Shower for the Eyes

A New Approach to Reactivating the Retina

The regenerative effect of light in the red and near-infrared range has been recognized for a long time. It is used therapeutically, for example, to treat various skin problems and to promote general skin health. Red light is also an important approach for wound healing in diabetic patients. Incidentally, this healing effect is one of the reasons why we appreciate the light from incandescent light bulbs so much. The lack of wavelengths in the red and infrared range is one reason why LED light saves energy, but it also means that there is no regenerative counterpart to the aggressive blue light.

Recent research has now investigated how long-wave light affects the retina and what benefits it could offer. For the first time, studies have shown that near-infrared light can improve visual acuity in old age.

As we age, we don’t just get wrinkles and grey hair. Our internal organs, including our eyes, also lose efficiency. Over time, the mitochondria, the cell’s “power houses”, work less efficiently, which leads to an insufficiency in energy supply for the cells. If this happens in the cells of the retina, vision suffers.

Red light therapy aims to support and improve the energy production of the retinal cells. Initial studies suggest that this method can have a positive effect on visual acuity in old age.

In this blog post, we will highlight current research on red light therapy for eye health, summarise relevant studies and provide an outlook on future developments.

Turning Light into Images

Why does Visual Performance Decline?

The visual process begins when light hits the retina at the back of the eye. The retina consists of specialized, light-sensitive cells, the photoreceptors (rods and cones), which convert light into electrical signals. These signals are transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain, where they are processed into images. Rods are responsible for seeing in dim light, while cones enable color vision in bright light.

The function of photoreceptors and other retinal cells depends largely on the energy supply from adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is produced in the mitochondria. This energy is crucial for the cell structure, signal transmission and regeneration of photopigments, which are important for light perception.

With increasing age, the efficiency of the mitochondria decreases, which leads to reduced ATP production. A lack of energy in the retinal cells significantly impairs their function. If the photoreceptors are not sufficiently supplied with ATP, they cannot perform their tasks effectively, which leads to a deterioration in vision. This can manifest as vision problems such as a reduced ability to see in low light, lower color accuracy and generally poorer image quality.

Darstellung von Frabigem Licht, dass auf Stäbchen und Zapfen in der Netzhaut trifft
The photoreceptors in the retina are called rods and cones

How Red Light Re-energizes the Cells

Red light can support energy production in the retina by improving the function of the mitochondria in the cells. The mitochondria are the “power plants” of the cells and are responsible for the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the most important energy source in biological systems. Irradiation with red light increases the efficiency of the mitochondria, which leads to higher ATP production. This improves cell function and promotes retinal health, making red light a promising therapeutic option to support eye health and combat age-related visual deterioration.

  1. Anregung der Cytochrom-c-Oxidase: Rotlicht im Wellenlängenbereich von etwa 600 bis 1000 Nanometern wird von der Cytochrom-c-Oxidase in den Mitochondrien absorbiert, einem Enzym der Atmungskette, das für die ATP-Produktion verantwortlich ist. Dies erhöht die Enzymaktivität und die Effizienz der Elektronentransportkette, was zu mehr ATP führt.

  2. Improving oxygen utilization: Red light improves oxygen utilization in the mitochondria, which means that the cells can use the available oxygen more effectively to produce ATP. More efficient use of oxygen leads to increased energy production and improved cell function.

  3. Reduction of oxidative stress: Red light can reduce the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are by-products of mitochondrial respiration. ROS can damage the mitochondria and other cell structures, which leads to reduced ATP production. By reducing oxidative stress, red light protects the mitochondria and promotes more sustainable energy production.

  4. Promoting cell repair and regeneration: Red light can support cellular repair processes and the regeneration of damaged mitochondria. By stimulating ATP production, energy and resources are provided that are necessary for the repair and reconstruction of cell structures. This leads to improved cell health and function.

  5. Increasing blood circulation: Red light therapy can improve microcirculation and blood flow in the tissue. Better blood circulation ensures an increased supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, which in turn supports ATP production in the mitochondria.

Eine Forscherin untersucht Netzhautgewebe unter dem Mikroskop
From the examination of retinal tissue to specialized vision tests, there are many ways to measure the effect of red light therapy.

Of Mice and Men

Development of the Research Field

The existing knowledge on red light and ATP gave rise to the assumption that treatment with red light could support and restore vision and retinal function. To test these assumptions, researchers carried out a pilot study on mice. They irradiated the eyes of mice with red light and found that the visual performance of the treated mice was significantly improved. The red light treatment led to an increase in ATP production in the retinal cells, and thus to an improved energy supply. There was also evidence of increased responsiveness of the retinal cells to light stimuli and less cell damage in the retina. The results of this study suggest that the stimulation of cell metabolism by red light could represent a simple and safe therapeutic option for improving vision.

Based on these promising results, a team from University College London designed a pilot study in humans involving 24 healthy participants aged between 28 and 72 years. They were given a “red light shower” with special flashlights emitting a wavelength of 670nm. The test subjects were instructed to hold the red light source in their eye for three minutes a day over a period of two weeks. The light was focused on the retinal area. Before and after the two-week red light therapy, various tests were carried out to assess visual function. The older participants (over 40 years of age) showed a significant improvement in contrast sensitivity. This improvement was particularly noticeable in the middle and lower contrast range.

In order to validate the results of the first pilot study and to investigate further aspects of red light therapy, the same team conducted a follow-up study. In particular, the aim was to investigate whether and for how long a single application with a lower dose of light would have an effect and whether the timing of the treatment was relevant. This follow-up study worked with participants between the ages of 34 and 70, in whom greater effects were to be expected than in younger subjects. The participants were again provided with LED flashlights with a wavelength of 670 nanometers (nm), which, however, emitted significantly weaker light. The participants were divided into two groups: One group received the red light therapy in the morning (between 8 and 9 am), the other group in the early afternoon (between 12 and 1 pm).

Before and after the 3-minute irradiation, various tests were carried out to assess visual function. This included tests to determine contrast sensitivity and color vision. In addition, the tests were also repeated seven days after the red light application to assess the duration of the effects. The participants who received the red light therapy in the morning showed significant improvements in contrast sensitivity and color vision compared to the control group and the group that received the therapy in the afternoon. The improvements in visual function remained measurable seven days after application, indicating that the effects of red light therapy are persistent and do not disappear immediately after discontinuation of treatment.

These studies suggest that red light treatment could be a simple, safe, and cost-effective at-home intervention for preserving vision in old age. Further studies should include larger groups of subjects and focus on fine-tuning the parameters to maximize the efficacy of this therapy. It remains exciting to see how this research will develop in the coming years.

Studies at a Glance

Mouse Study: Red Light Increases Visual Performance

In an initial study, the eyes of mice were irradiated with red light, which increased ATP production in their retinal cells. This led to improved visual performance and increased light response by strengthening mitochondrial function and reducing cell damage.

Older People Benefit from Red Light Therapy

This pilot study on humans showed that the older participants (>40 years) benefited the most. A two-week red light treatment with a wavelength of 670 nm led to significant improvements in contrast sensitivity and thus visual performance, particularly in dim light.

Morning Red Light Improves Eyesight

In the follow-up study, participants received a single session of three minutes of red light therapy either in the morning or in the afternoon. The morning application showed significant improvements in contrast sensitivity and color vision, which were still measurable after one week.

Conclusion: Red Light Therapy and its Importance

Current research on red light therapy shows promising results for eye health in old age. The studies show that red light improves retinal function by stimulating ATP production in the mitochondria and thus strengthens vision.

However, these findings also highlight the potential dangers of our modern lifestyle. The lack of red and near-infrared light in indoor lighting, especially when using LED lights, could have a negative impact on our eye health. In contrast, natural sunlight contains these important wavelengths that can support our retina. Incandescent lamps, and all warm light sources such as candles, have a very high proportion of long-wave light – which is probably why it is so relaxing to look into a campfire…

With our red colored light glasses, these wavelengths (not only red, but also light in the infrared range) can penetrate specifically to the eye, while other wavelengths are blocked. In this way, a level of light intensity in the red range similar to that used in the studies can be achieved in daylight.

It is important to emphasize that we are only speculating here and presenting current research. This article is in no way intended as a guide to self-treatment. The methods and findings discussed are an exciting field of science that needs to be explored further in order to develop sound and safe therapeutic applications.

Ongoing research will hopefully provide further clarity on how red light therapy can be used to best effect, while reminding us of the importance of regularly enjoying natural light and protecting the eyes from harmful environmental influences.

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