Testing Potential Uses for Light Therapy

In the 30 years since Donna Keller-Ossipov had her first migraine, she’s tried everything from pills to Botox to keep the crushing headaches at bay. They’ve come every few days anyway, forcing her to retreat to a dark room, nauseated and incapacitated.

So when Keller-Ossipov learned of a clinical trial testing “green light therapy” for migraine, she didn’t hesitate to sign up. Months after the study ended, she still bathes herself in the green glow of a portable LED light 2 hours per day, setting it next to her as she winds down at night. She hasn’t had a migraine since spring.

“I don’t know how it works,” says the retired 61-year-old nurse. “But it works.”

Donna Keller-Ossipov

University of Arizona surgical specialist Kerry Gilbraith holds a clear plastic container affixed with green LED strips that was used in the migraine study.

The trial, at the University of Arizona, is among dozens of ongoing studies exploring whether exposing the skin or eyes to specific wavelengths of light can help treat health problems. At Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers are studying whether a red light-emitting helmet can help traumatic brain injury patients recover. At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists are studying whether a similar device can stall mental decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Dermatology offices and high-end spas routinely use light therapy to ease skin problems. And thanks to the recent availability of low-cost, heat-free (and thus safer) light-emitting diodes (LEDs), there are more do-it-yourself gadgets for treating acne, depression, and pain online.

“I think interest in light therapy is definitely increasing,” says Michael Hamblin, PhD, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. “Instead of trekking to the doctor’s office to have light shined on them, consumers can now shine…

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