Staring at Deep Red Light Restores Naturally Declining Vision, Researchers Find

A new study by researchers at University College London (UCL) shows that exposing the eyes to deep red light for only three minutes in the morning can enhance naturally worsening vision drastically. This raises hopes for the availability of more affordable home-based therapies in the future.



The researchers observed that this morning exposure renewed mitochondria cells in the retina. As a result, there was a marked improvement in vision. There was a 17 percent increase in color contrast vision, on average, among subjects.

The new study was a follow-up on earlier research by the team that showed similar results.

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“We demonstrate that one single exposure to long-wave deep red light in the morning can significantly improve declining vision, which is a major health and wellbeing issue, affecting millions of people globally,” said Professor Glen Jeffery, the study’s lead author.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Worsening vision

It is natural for human eyesight to deteriorate with age. Retina cells are believed to start aging from about the age of 40. The rate of aging and declining vision is linked to how fast mitochondria in the cells decline.

Mitochondria are commonly regarded as the powerhouse of cells. They produce the bulk of the supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a source of energy in cells.

Photoreceptor cells have the most amounts of mitochondria in the retina due to their high energy requirements. With ATP declining about 70 percent over life, the retina tends to age faster, compared to other organs, and photoreceptor function decline rapidly.

The British researchers had found in previous research that long-wave, deep red light turned on mitochondria cells in the retina. Those findings formed the basis of the new research.

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Improving eyesight with red light

The researchers recruited 20 participants whose ages were between 34 and 70 years for this study. They exposed these subjects to a LED device emitting light energy of only 8mW/cm2, against 40mW/cm2 used in previous research.

The team wanted to find out what effect a single dose of three-minute exposure of red light would have on eyes at lower energy levels.

Each participant was exposed to a 670nm deep red light for three minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

This led to a 17 percent step-up in color vision. Improvement was even more significant in older subjects at 20 percent on average. The effect of a single exposure lasted a week.

There are two main types of photoreceptors: rods and cones. Rods are responsible for vision in low-light conditions, while cones adjust vision at higher light levels and control color vision.

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The current study centered on cones. However, previous research suggests that effects on cones could extend to rods as well.

Influenced by findings from another UCL research, the team repeated the exposure treatment on six of the original subjects between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. some months later. It found no improvement in color vision at all.

This shows that morning exposure is very vital for improvements in declining vision, according to Professor Jeffery.

The lead author compared the effect of the LED device on the eyes’ energy system to recharging a battery. He also noted that the study confirms that “mitochondria have shifting work patterns,” as evidenced by a lack of improvement from afternoon exposure.

Breakthrough for eye health

Professor Jeffery described the deep red light therapy as a discovery that could improve the quality of life drastically as people get older if it is applied to the population. It offers a less-expensive alternative to existing vision devices that run into thousands of dollars. It would also possibly lead to a drop in social costs linked to naturally declining vision.

The findings seem to offer great promise for safety in addition to affordability.

“The technology is simple and very safe; the energy delivered by 670nm long wave light is not that much greater than that found in natural environmental light,” said the lead author.

A major limitation of this study, however, is that improvements reported were on average. These could differ strikingly between persons of similar ages.

Read Also: Blindness: Reactivating Inactive Genes Can Regenerate Damaged Retinas


Weeklong improved colour contrasts sensitivity after single 670 nm exposures associated with enhanced mitochondrial function



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