What is Light Therapy used for?
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Migraine Headache

For the last ten years Dr Duncan Anderson of The Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, London, has been working with Photic Stimulation (pulsed light) as a treatment for migraine.

In the journal "Headache" he reported on a study of 50 migraine headaches: 49 were rated by the patients as being helped and 36 as being stopped by using light treatment. The light treatment shortened the migraine attacks in all the patients. And the average interval between successive migraine headaches increased in two cases which were followed for more than 18 months. For details, please see the journal reference for Anderson (1989) on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

A recent survey of migraine patients using Dr Anderson's light therapy found that between 43 and 55% of them reported that after the treatment, the frequency of their migraine attacks was "somewhat less" or "much less" (under a conservative interpretation of these categories). The highest percentage of success (55%) was reported by those whose migraine was preceded by some kind of warning signs (visual disturbances, numbness,tingling,etc). In view of the limited effectiveness of migraine preventive drugs and their undesirable side-effects, Photic Stimulation (Dr Anderson's light therapy) is clearly one of the most valuable preventive treatments for migraine. For details, please see the journal reference for Noton (2000) on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

Treatment with light not drugs
The treatment involves wearing a lightmask that covers the eyes for about 15 minutes per day. The lightmask contains miniature lights, one in front of each eye, which gently pulse in special pre-programmed rhythms. The lightmask is used every day, as a preventive, and also whenever a migraine attack starts, to stop the attack. The treatment is non-invasive and drug free.

Research into various disorders
Originally Dr Anderson developed the pulsed light treatment as a remedy for migraine. In the course of this work he discovered that it was also very effective for PMS. Additional studies are underway or planned to study the application of pulsed light in other areas where it is believed to be effective, such as insomnia and Attention Deficit Disorder. Dr Anderson's studies of pulsed light are the first to be conducted in the formal setting of a research hospital and are the first to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

How does it work?
Why should pulsed light shone into the eyes be such an effective treatment for PMS and migraine? Published research shows that during PMS, the body's internal daily clock becomes de-synchronised from the external rhythm of day and night. Dr Anderson's results suggest that daily use of the pulsed light helps the clock to re-synchronise. It re-establishes normal brain function in the visual cortex when used during migraine aura, thereby stopping activation of the trigeminovascular system (the cause of pain). It re-establishes normal function in the brain when used during warning signs for migraine without aura.

The Rio Lightmask
The Rio Lightmask is a low-cost device for pulsed light therapy (Photic Stimulation). Dr Anderson's pulsed light treatment has been developed into a small portable device suitable for home use. The Lightmask consists of a pulsed light unit mounted on a soft wrap-around headband. A separate control unit allows the user to select various programmes (for PMS, Migraine, Insomnia, Stress-relaxation, etc) and to adjust the brightness and pulse frequency of the light for maximum comfort. The Lightmask switches off automatically after 15 minutes, allowing it to be used when going to sleep.

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a major source of distress for many women. In the days leading up to their menstrual period they suffer from physical symptoms such as bloating and breast tenderness, and emotional and behavioral symptoms such as mood swings, irritability and food cravings. PMS is also sometimes known as Premenstrual Tension (PMT), since tension is often a major symptom.

New natural treatment for PMS
Dr Duncan Anderson, a research doctor at The Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, has discovered a treatment that virtually eliminates PMS in most women. The treatment is a form of light therapy known as Photic Stimulation. It involves shining gently pulsed light into closed eyes for about 15 minutes a day.

Most effective remedy yet
A six month trial of the new treatment was recently conducted by Dr Anderson and his colleagues at The Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, London. The results, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, show that this new technique is more effective than any other previously published remedy for PMS.

On average, the women in the trial experienced a 76% reduction in their symptoms, to the point where most of them no longer suffered from PMS. No previous treatment for PMS, be it anti-depressants, hormones, relaxation or vitamin and herbal supplements, has shown this high level of improvement.

The women in the test also reported some other unexpected good side-effects, including a reduction in period pains, improvement in sleep quality, and weight loss by women who had suffered food cravings. For details, please see the journal reference for Anderson et al (1997) on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

Treatment with light not drugs
The treatment involves wearing a lightmask that covers the eyes for about 15 minutes per day. The lightmask contains miniature lights, one in front of each eye, which gently pulse in special pre-programmed rhythms. The lightmask is used either every day or at least every day in the second half of a woman's cycle. The treatment is non-invasive and drug free.

Research into various disorders
Originally Dr Anderson developed the pulsed light treatment as a remedy for migraine. In the course of this work he discovered that it was also very effective for PMS. Additional studies are underway or planned to study the application of pulsed light in other areas where it is believed to be effective, such as insomnia and Attention Deficit Disorder. Dr Anderson's studies of pulsed light are the first to be conducted in the formal setting of a research hospital and are the first to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

How does it work?
Why should pulsed light shone into the eyes be such an effective treatment for PMS and migraine? Published research shows that during PMS, the body's internal daily clock becomes de-synchronised from the external rhythm of day and night. Dr Anderson's results suggest that daily use of the pulsed light helps the clock to re-synchronise. It re-establishes normal brain function in the visual cortex when used during migraine aura, thereby stopping activation of the trigeminovascular system (the cause of pain). It re-establishes normal function in the brain when used during warning signs for migraine without aura.

The Rio Lightmask
The Rio Lightmask is a low-cost device for pulsed light therapy (Photic Stimulation). Dr Anderson's pulsed light treatment has been developed into a small portable device suitable for home use. The Lightmask consists of a pulsed light unit mounted on a soft wrap-around headband. A separate control unit allows the user to select various programmes (for PMS, Migraine, Insomnia, Stress-relaxation, etc) and to adjust the brightness and pulse frequency of the light for maximum comfort. The Lightmask switches off automatically after 15 minutes, allowing it to be used when going to sleep.

Insomnia & Other Sleep Disorders

It is Lightmask customers themselves who have convinced us that pulsed light therapy is a valuable treatment for insomnia. Again and again, while talking to customers about their experience with a Lightmask, which they may have bought for PMS, Migraine or other problems, they tell us "and you know, I'm sleeping better too". Other customers call and ask us if the Lightmask will still be effective if they fall asleep during their daily 15 minute session, it is, since the Lightmask turns off automatically after 15 minutes, falling asleep is not a problem and the Lightmask can simply be removed during the night when awakening or turning over. Although there is little published scientific evidence for the sleep-inducing effect of Photic Stimulation (pulsed light), the sheer weight of customers' comments cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, scientific validation may soon be available. A psychotherapist in Canberra, Australia, who works with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD, previously known as "battle fatigue"), has found the Lightmask very helpful for her clients' sleep problems. Because of their disturbed mental and emotional state, these veterans tend to have trouble sleeping and, if they awaken during the night after nightmares, they have even greater trouble going back to sleep. The psychotherapist has been supplying them with a Lightmask and instructing them to use it for 30 minutes (i.e. two sessions) at bedtime and again for 15 minutes (one session) if they awaken and have trouble going back to sleep.

So successful has this programme been, that a preliminary trial is being started, to attempt to put the treatment on a firmer scientific basis.

Comment: for use by PTSD sufferers the Lightmask is set to flash at 13 cycles per second, rather than the normal factory setting of 30 cycles per second. This is the frequency of the SMR brainwave rhythm, which has been shown to suppress restlessness. According to published studies by Dr Steven Woodward of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, veterans suffering from PTSD tend to be deficient in this brainwave frequency, which may explain their success in using the Lightmask at this frequency. However, for normal use for insomnia, the Lightmask appears to be quite effective at the normal factory setting.

The Rio Lightmask
The Rio Lightmask is a low-cost device for pulsed light therapy (Photic Stimulation). Dr Anderson's pulsed light treatment has been developed into a small portable device suitable for home use. The Lightmask consists of a pulsed light unit mounted on a soft wrap-around headband. A separate control unit allows the user to select various programmes (for PMS, Migraine, Insomnia, Stress-relaxation, etc) and to adjust the brightness and pulse frequency of the light for maximum comfort. The Lightmask switches off automatically after 15 minutes, allowing it to be used when going to sleep.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Of all the disorders that can be treated with light therapy, Winter Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is by far the most extensively researched. More than 10 years of research and dozens of published papers attest to the reality of SAD and the effectiveness of daily bright light sessions as a treatment. Research has even been sponsored by the US government departments, such as the National Institutes of Health.

In the past doctors have tended to dismiss the problem of SAD, suggesting that it's all in the head and that the benefits of the bright light treatment were all wishful thinking. But now three scientific reports published simultaneously in the October 1998 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry show beyond reasonable doubt that SAD is real and that the bright light treatment really works. The tests involved quite large numbers of subjects and the bright light treatment was tested against "placebo" treatments, that were designed to seem convincing but do nothing, to ensure that positive expectations did bias the results. For details, please see the journal references for Avery (1998), Avery at al (1993), Eastman et al (1998), Joffe et al (1993) and Terman et al (1998) on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

The Rio SAD Lamp is a compact unit, standing at only 19cm tall, it can be easily placed in a bedroom or a living room, on a desk beside a PC at home or even on a desk at work. It produces a full spectrum of natural light with low energy usage. The lamp can be used at any time during the day (to link to the natural biological clock, it is best to use between 6am and 8pm), although research has shown that morning use is the most beneficial time.

Coldsores

Coldsores are caused by the Herpes Simplex virus. Initial infection usually occurs after contact with a person already carrying the virus. After infection the virus passes through the skin and enters a nerve where it remains dormant until triggered. This may be caused by colds, flu, fatigue, stress, bright sunlight and menstruation. When triggered the virus travels back down the nerve to the skin causing the cold sore attack.

The Herpes Simplex virus is easily transmitted, and should you get a coldsore, avoid touching it with your fingers, touching your eyes, kissing or oral sex, sharing drinking or eating utensils, sharing towels or other bathroom utensils.

The Rio Virulite is a hand-held device which when held against the infected area, uses infra-red light (not visible to the human eye) to treat the coldsore. The light acts as a catalyst which boosts the immune system into healing the area much faster, usually healing the coldsore in a quarter of the natural healing time. With regular use, the coldsores may never return.

 

 

ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder)

There is not a great deal of published scientific data on the use of light therapy for attention deficit disorder, but there have been a few studies published and there are a number of anecdotal reports. In 1993, JL Carter and HL Russell of the University of Houston, published in The Texas Researcher the results of a study of Photic Stimulation with learning-disabled boys (ADD/ADHD) aged eight to twelve. The study used an unusual protocol in which the frequency of the pulsed light was varied every two minutes between 10Hz and 18Hz; the Photic Stimulation was also accompanied by auditory stimulation at the same frequency. The study showed significant increases in several intelligence measures. However, in some cases as many as 80 sessions were required. For the complete journal reference for this research, please visit the Scientific Studies page of this website.

Some studies have been conducted by David Siever of Comptronic in Canada, but we are not aware of any published material in peer-reviewed journals. Most of his studies appear to have used a pulse frequency of 10Hz.

In his book "Mega Brain Power" (Hyperion, 1994), Michael Hutchison presents an interesting anecdotal report on a colleague with ADD. Based on his extensive experience with Photic Stimulation (pulsed light therapy), Hutchison recommends a protocol much simpler than the Carter-Russell protocol mentioned above.

In fact, based on our experience with the Lightmask, we believe that the best protocol for most applications of Photic Stimulation may well be to allow the user to find the frequency that he or she prefers; this will encourage regular use, whereas an enforced and unliked frequency will discourage use. As with most health and self-improvement practices, regularity of practice is probably more important than the exact details and procedures followed. In the trial of Photic Stimulation for PMS, reported elsewhere on this website, the subjects were allowed to choose their own preferred frequency (though 30Hz was suggested to them as an initial frequency). Their choices ranged widely from 8Hz to 50Hz and almost all the subjects experienced major improvements in their symptoms.

Stress Reduction & Relaxation

The use of Photic Stimulation (pulsed light therapy) for relaxation and stress reduction has not yet received as much research attention as it deserves. Perhaps this is because stress is not taken very seriously in most medical circles. It is considered a normal fact of life - perhaps especially for medical personnel! However, many users of the Lightmask report that the treatment is a pleasant and relaxing experience and, as mentioned in the insomnia section of this page, many of them also report falling asleep while using the Lightmask, an indication of some level of relaxation.

In fact, there is a small body of scientific evidence that Photic Stimulation is relaxing and reduces stress levels. The work of Dr Norman Shealy with chronic pain patients, which has continued for more than twenty years, is briefly described in the pain management section of this page. In some of these studies, he and his colleagues also measured relaxation levels and these were consistently reported to be reduced. Dr Donald Morse of Temple University of Dentistry has studied the use of Photic Stimulation to reduce stress levels in patients awaiting dental surgery (root canal procedures). Using both subjective reports and objective measures (galvanic skin resistance and pulse rate), he found that the treatment was significantly better than the "routine calming words spoken by the dentist and dental assistant". In his published papers, Morse also reviews some earlier, less formal studies of relaxation using Photic Stimulation. For details, please see the journal references for Morse (1993) and Morse-Chow (1993) on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

Overall, the combination of anecdotal and scientific evidence is a convincing indication that Photic Stimulation is a useful treatment for at least moderate levels of stress and anxiety.

The Rio Lightmask
The Rio Lightmask is a low-cost device for pulsed light therapy (Photic Stimulation). Dr Anderson's pulsed light treatment has been developed into a small portable device suitable for home use. The Lightmask consists of a pulsed light unit mounted on a soft wrap-around headband. A separate control unit allows the user to select various programmes (for PMS, Migraine, Insomnia, Stress-relaxation, etc) and to adjust the brightness and pulse frequency of the light for maximum comfort. The Lightmask switches off automatically after 15 minutes, allowing it to be used when going to sleep.

CFS (Chronic Fatigue) & ME

Although no formal scientific studies have been conducted, there have been a number of remarkable reports of major improvement of CFS or ME using pulsed light therapy. Unfortunately, there have also been a number of reports of cases which were not at all benefited. Evidently CFS/ME is a complex condition with a variety of causes and forms;some of these may respond to light therapy, while others may not. When good results were obtained, they were clear and dramatic, "This was a turning point for me" said one sufferer; "It changed my life" said another. But the disappointments were equally clear for those whom it did not help.

Until scientific studies yield clearer results, perhaps the most that a CFS/ME sufferer can do is to try this form of therapy, relying on the money-back guarantee to recover the expense if improvement is not forthcoming.

Pain Reduction & Management

For more than twenty years Dr Norman Shealy and his colleagues at the Shealy Institute in Springfield, Missouri, USA, have been working with patients with chronic pain, using Photic Stimulation (pulsed light therapy) as well as many other forms of treatment. They have published a number of studies of Photic Stimulation for relaxation and for reduction and management of chronic pain. Some of their studies included measurements of levels of endorphins and other neurohormones and neurochemicals, some of which showed quite dramatic changes as a result of 30 minutes of Photic Stimulation. For details, please see the journal references for Cox et al (1996) and Shealy et al (1996) on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

There have been a few other studies published in the last ten years. For example, in 1992, FJ Boersma and C Gagnon of the University of Alberta, published three case studies of the successful use of combined photic and audio stimulation in the management of back pain. And N Thomas of the University of Alberta and D Siever of Comptronic Devices Ltd, have studied TMJ patients and worked with patients with lower back pain. For details, please see journal references for Boersma and Gagnon (1992) and Thomas and Siever on the Scientific Studies page of this website.

Acne & Other Skin Problems

One of the most interesting new applications of light therapy is in the treatment of acne. Dr Tony Chu at the Hammersmith Hospital in London (the same hospital in which pulsed light therapy for PMS and Migraine was developed) discovered a particular wavelength of blue light which kills off the bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes, which causes the infections and inflammation producing the condition known as acne. Previous research, going back even into the 19th century, had shown that red light aids wound healing. Putting these two ideas together, Dr Chu developed a light unit with red and blue lamps of the appropriate wavelengths, and showed it to be a very effective treatment for acne, the blue light reducing bacterial infection, while the red light accelerated the natural healing process. A recently published study showed that treatment for 15 minutes a day for twelve weeks, produced a 76% reduction in acne activity. For details, please see the journal references for Papageorgiou et al (2000) and Cunliffe and Goulden (2000) on the Scientific Studies page of this website. Please note - the wavelengths of light used are not such as to cause any danger of sunburn or skin cancer.

Wound Healing

One of the most widespread uses of light therapy is in the healing of wounds. Extensive research, mainly in Eastern European countries, has clearly demonstrated that polarized light is very effective in promoting the healing of wounds, burns, leg ulcers and other hard-to-heal surface injuries. The work has been reported in numerous publications, but unfortunately only a few of them are available in the English language medical literature. For references, please visit the Scientific Studies page of this website, in particular papers by Depuydt et al and Kubasova et al).

The early work in this field was done with laser light, but it was subsequently discovered that the key aspect of the laser light was its polarization and that similar effects could be obtained using normal (incoherent) light that was polarized. The light used is generally of broad spectrum, in the range of the visible and near-infra-red, with any UV component removed.

It has been shown that polarized light affects the alignment of fat and protein molecules on the cell membrane and it is believed that this is the mechanism through which it promotes cell regeneration and healing.

Although it is widely used in hospitals, polarized light therapy is also well suited to home use, since the light devices are small and portable.

Medical Applications for Light Therapy

At this Light Therapy Centre website, we have tried to present the various forms of light therapy which can be applied at home, using devices which can be bought without prescription. There are of course other, more medically-orientated forms of light therapy. For example, the use of blue light as a treatment for neo-natal jaundice is a well-established medical procedure, and medical trials are being conducted on photodynamic therapy, a new light-based treatment for certain forms of cancer. But these and other forms of medical light therapy are treatments that must be carried out in a hospital or clinic, under medical supervision, and are considered beyond the scope of The Light Therapy Centre and this website.

One of the most interesting and unusual forms of medical light therapy is a Russian procedure, known as blood photo-modification, in which blood is drawn from the patient, circulated through a glass tube where it is irradiated with laser light, and then returned directly to the patient. At the LIGHT98 conference (see the general article "A Bright Future for Light Therapy" in the 'What is Light Therapy?' section of this website) there was a presentation on the use of this treatment in Russia, over many years with thousands of patients. Astounding results were reported with a wide range of diseases.

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