Typically, "stare directly into the light" sounds like bad advice, but for people with declining eyesight it might be good to stare into deep red light for three minutes per day, according to a new study published in the journal The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.
Declining eyesight might be reversed with deep red light
In a study led by University College London (UCL), scientists found that staring directly into a deep red light for three minutes per day can significantly improve declining eyesight — marking the first study that successfully inverts all commonsense about lights and eyes.
Scientists think this discovery might signal the dawn of a new affordable home-based eye-therapy — helping millions of people worldwide see more from sitting down holding a deep red light in their eyes.
At present, there are roughly 12 million people more than 65 years old — in 50 years this figure will rise to roughly 20 million, all of whom will experience a degree of visual decline from retinal aging, according to the study.
Declining eyesight in people more than 40 years old
Professor Glen Jeffery — lead author of the UCL study — said: "As you age your visual system declines significantly, particularly once over 40 [... y]our 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," he added.
People roughly 40 years of age experience cell aging in the eye's retina. The pace of this aging is partially linked to mitochondrial health. Mitochondria produce energy (also called ATP) and boost cell function, and when this declines, so can eyesight.
Mitochondrial energy partially blamed for declining eyesight
Mitochondrial density is greatest within the retina's photoreceptor cells, which demand high quantities of energy. This is why the retina ages much faster than other organs, "seeing" a 70% ATP reduction throughout a human lifetime. This creates a significant decline in photoreceptor function because they lack the requisite energy to do their biological job.
The new findings are built on earlier findings in mice, fruit flies, and bumblebees — all of which "saw" significant improvements in their retinas' photoreceptors after exposure to 670-nanometer (long wavelength) deep red light.
"Mitochondria have specific light absorbance characteristics influencing their performance: longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 1000nm are absorbed and improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production," said Jeffrey.
Cones, rod sensitivity key to improved eyesight
The photoreceptor population of retinas is composed of cones that mediate color vision and rods — which allows peripheral vision and adapts vision to low or dim light, according to the study.
Twenty-four people (12 female, 12 male) aged between 28 and 72 who had no previously-documented ocular disease were used in the study. Each participant's eyes were tested for rod and cone sensitivity at the outset. Rod sensitivity was measured with dilated pupils via a test that asked participants to detect dim light signals in the dark, while cone function was tested via subjects attempting to identify colored letters with low contrast and of increasingly blurry resolution (called color contrast).
While there's no perfect cure for declining eyesight, it's good to know that staring into deep red light for three minutes per day — a welcome inversion of the commonsense logic about eyes and light — is now a beneficial supplement.