Scientists have found that staring into a red light could have groundbreaking benefits for humans. Yes, after years of intensive research, the medical world has happened upon an exciting breakthrough that could have a positive impact for years to come. And while this is obviously good news for everybody, the findings are particularly beneficial to people who are 40 and over. Here’s why.
It has a lot to do with the fact that from age 40 onwards your eyesight declines. This is caused by your peepers gradually losing the ability to focus on objects close to you. Of course, short-sightedness does not exclusively affect 40-somethings – as many people sporting a pair of glasses will tell you.
According to the American Optometric Association, though, this change in your eyes’ capacity to see near objects most commonly occurs in adults between the ages of 41 through 60. It comes about when your eyes’ lenses lose flexibility as you age. And this makes it harder for people to swap their focus between things that are close and far away. So this new hack with red light should come as welcome news to many.
If you are wondering whether or not to give it a go, have a think about your eyes now. Early signs of failing eyesight might be that you need to hold a letter further away to read it. Or perhaps your work on a computer or tablet could look blurred. When this happens, it’s definitely time to schedule an appointment with an optometrist. They’ll examine your eyes and recommend options such as eye surgery or wearing glasses.
For humans, after all, the ability to be able to see clearly is vital. We differ from our animal friends in that we can’t rely on our other senses – like, say, a cat uses its whiskers – to guide us around. Sight is arguably the most important of our faculties, and it helps us perform daily tasks without injury. So if staring at red light can improve this sense, it’s got to be worth a shot.
But to understand how this red-light hack works, it’s important to first get to grips with vision. So our sight operates in a similar way to a camera. Light enters a hole at the front of both and then moves into a lens. In your eyes, it passes through the protective film of the cornea first. Your lens then alters the light’s course and guides it onto the retina.
The retina is located at the back of your eye. In a camera, of course, its equivalent would be the film – or a sensor chip in a digital camera. And in photography, the amount of light that enters is controlled by the shutter. But in your eye, light is controlled by the iris.
Muscles in the iris let differing amounts of light in as they relax and contract. This, incidentally, is why your pupils get bigger and smaller when you walk between rooms with different lighting. The magic then happens when this light reaches the retina. That’s because the retinal tissue is coated in millions of light-responsive receptors. Sounds pretty science-y, right? Well, let us explain – and this will also help you understand why red light could be so important.
So these minuscule sensors in the retina are called rods and cones. When light touches them, they transform and set off a multitude of electrical impulses to the brain via the optic nerve. You have two eyes, of course, and hence two optic nerves. These cross over and both enter the brain at a place called the optic chiasm.
Messages then move to different parts of the brain. Those from the eyes’ left side go to the left, and messages coming from the right go to that side. Information about the image is then separated into two – contrast and movement make up one part, and detail including color form the other. All of these signals reach the visual cortex at the back of the brain – together recreating the image in front of you. And while this all sounds complicated, it takes place at incredible speeds – without any need, fortunately, for us to think about it.
Your retina is believed to contain around 120 million rod cells, and these detect light. The cone cells – of which there are between six and seven million – pick up color. So they are the things that’ll detect our precious red light. Most of these are in a tiny spot called the fovea, which is situated in the middle of the retina. This is where the picture you see is created.
It’s also worth mentioning that each eye is only able to create two-dimensional pictures. But the brain takes the two different images created by each eye and puts them together to build them up into a 3D image. Naturally, all of this is incredibly clever, and it’s just one example of how amazing the human body is. But that’s for another article. Here, we’re just thinking about eyes – and red light.
Many people, of course, will not appreciate the marvel of their eyesight until they start to lose it. But, as we’ve discussed, this is something that happens to a large proportion of us as we get older. Like we said before, the lenses in our eyes become less flexible as we get older – perhaps because of a change in their hardness, size or shape.
People who start struggling to see objects close to them may have developed a condition called presbyopia. Though this isn’t the only way your eyesight can be affected in later life. Common complaints as you get older include the need for more light (not the red kind) to be able to see properly while performing close tasks.
Conversely, age-related deterioration to your eye’s lens can make it scatter light rather than pinpointing it onto your retina. This can create more glare from bright light in your field of vision. Like when headlights are coming towards you when driving or when there’s reflected sunlight on a window.
In middle age, you might also start to suffer from dry eyes. This is because they produce less basal tears. These are the tears that you always have in your eyes to keep them moist and healthy. They also clear away any small bits of dust that find their way into your peepers.
Menopausal women going through hormonal changes sometimes find that they produce fewer tears, too. But another common problem for both sexes as they age could be a change in how they can see color. That’s because the eye’s lens can lose its transparency and make it more difficult to see some shades. Perhaps this is how the red-light hack can help.
Note, though, that while these problems can occur in middle age, it doesn’t mean younger generations can relax and ignore eye health. A multitude of behaviors can cause damage to your eyes before you reach that milestone, after all. And among the top of these, is – you’ve guessed it – screen time.
Staring at a computer, TV or smartphone can cause your eyes to become dehydrated. That’s because you blink less when looking at a screen, and this deprives your eyes of the vital nourishment provided by basal tears. Reading small typing on a phone or adapting to changing light levels can cause eye strain as well.
A bad diet, lack of sleep and smoking are also big no-nos for healthy peepers. It’s important to protect your eyes properly by wearing sunglasses that provide maximum UV protection and swimming goggles in the pool. Using correctly fitting contact lenses and replacing eye make-up regularly are essential, too.
Keeping on top of eye health also means annual visits with an eye doctor. If you start experiencing any problems – such as seeing wavy images or experiencing loss of vision – be sure to book an appointment as soon as possible. And while floating lights can be a normal symptom of your eyes aging, this should still be checked out by a professional. But let’s return to red light.
We’ve talked about how problems with near vision can emerge as you get older. But scientists have found that deep red light can have transformative healing properties – even on eyes damaged by aging. It only takes a few minutes a day to kickstart the recovery process as well.
A report published in The Journals of Gerentology claims that staring at a red light for three minutes daily can go a long way to repair naturally occurring damage to eyesight caused by aging. The study – undertaken by University College London (UCL) in the summer of 2020 – examined the effects on 24 adults between the ages of 28 and 72.
The participants – of whom an equal number were male and female – had no eye conditions. Before the experiment, their peepers were examined to measure how sensitive their rods and cones were to light. This was done by asking them to identify low light sources in the dark for their rods and making out blurred colored letters to test their cones.
Then the participants were equipped with a mini torch to take away. They were requested to look into a 670-nanometer red light beam for three minutes every day for two weeks. After this, they were tested again for eye sensitivity in both their eye rods and cones.
Professor Glen Jeffery from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology was a head researcher on the experiment. In the subsequent report, he explained, “As you age your visual system declines significantly – particularly once over 40. Your retinal sensitivity and… color vision are both gradually undermined, and with an aging population, this is an increasingly important issue.”
Jeffery went on, “To try to stem or reverse this decline, we sought to reboot the retina’s aging cells with short bursts of long-wave light.” The results were startling. You see, the light did not affect those under 40, and it was in the older age group that big improvements were seen.
Cone color contrast sensitivity got much better for the middle-aged and older participants. In some cases, this recovery was as high as 20 percent. The greatest progress was seen in the blue part of the light spectrum that eyes can see – a section more vulnerable to the aging process.
The older testers also saw improvements in rod sensitivity, which is a measurement of our ability to see clearly in low light. Jeffery said, “Our study shows that it is possible to significantly improve vision that has declined in aged individuals using simple brief exposures to light wavelengths that recharge the energy system that has declined in the retina cells – rather like recharging a battery.”
Jeffery added, “The technology is simple and very safe. [It uses] a deep red light of a specific wavelength, that is absorbed by mitochondria in the retina that supply energy for cellular function. Our devices cost about [$16] to make, so the technology is highly accessible to members of the public.”
These results are certainly remarkable. In countries with aging populations – such as the U.K. and the U.S. – the findings are great news. The number of Americans over the age of 65 is set to reach 80 million by 2040, according to the United States Census Bureau. And Britain’s Office for National Statistics estimates that the age group will almost double in the next 50 years.
But just how does long-wave light improve eyesight? Well, here’s the science bit. Our retinas age faster than any other organ. Mitochondria are organelles that generate chemical energy and boost function and are found in all of your body’s cells. The retina uses a lot of energy, so it has a high density of mitochondria in its photoreceptors.
This energy consumption is why your retina ages so fast. After all, energy production reduces by up to 70 percent over a lifetime, according to Science Daily. So the performance of the photoreceptors in your eyes decreases as they aren’t being fired up enough. And this is where shining light into your eyes can help.
Mitochondria in your eyes can absorb this light and use it to produce more energy. But shining a regular torch into your eyes isn’t going to do the trick. This particular light has a long wavelength. But the red light used in the study was 670 nanometers.
A nanometer – as science boffins will know – is a billionth of a meter. When white light is split into the colors of a rainbow through a prism, red light has the longest wavelength – from 620-750 nanometers – all the way down to violet light, which has the shortest.
But it’s this red light that is most easily taken in by the eye’s mitochondria. Jeffery said, “Mitochondria have specific light absorbance characteristics influencing their performance: longer wavelengths spanning 650 to 1000 nanometers are absorbed and improve mitochondrial performance to increase energy production.”
The effect was the same even if the participants’ eyelids were closed when the torch was shone into them, as they didn’t block out the red light. We’ll just reiterate here that the effects can’t be reproduced with a regular flashlight at home – whether or not your eyes are closed.
And if this sounds like something you’d like to try, you can’t pick up one of these torches in the store quite yet. But thanks to these impressive results, they might be something you may be able to get through your health center in the future.
As the participants discovered, using these torches at home was simple yet effective. Jeffery’s estimation that the cost value would be around $16 means that the products wouldn’t be out of many people’s price range. And as long as the price tag wasn’t too inflated, this would make them accessible to many.
And if these wonder torches become available over the counter, they could help the millions of older folk across the world now and for generations to come. Just one thing, though: remember that those screen-time rules still apply. Prevention is always better than a cure.
Light is a funny thing, after all. Just check out this story: in the early hours of September 26, 2016, Kate Mason gave birth to a little girl who tipped the scales at just over eight pounds. It was a healthy weight and one that confounded concerns that the new mother’s baby would be on the small side. However, there was something about the newborn that left everyone – not least her parents – in complete and utter shock.
Like most parents-to-be, Kate Mason, who hails from Lincolnshire, U.K., and her partner, Tony Holloway, were probably over the moon when they discovered that they were expecting. And although they were already mom and dad to an Old English Sheepdog called Bertie, the couple could be forgiven for having felt a little anxious about their impending new arrival.
Adding to any anxiety, there were certainly a few worries regarding how well the awaited baby was developing. Mason was therefore required to have multiple scans so that her unborn child’s growth levels could be monitored. And it was during one of these routine appointments that the parents-to-be received some news that left them stunned.
Numerous different factors can impact a developing baby’s growth in the womb. The size and weight of the pregnant woman, for example, or whether she is a smoker or a drinker. It’s vital, then, to keep a close eye on unborn children, and there are several different ways to do so.
These procedures can involve taking blood samples and carrying out DNA tests, for instance. But one of the most important and painless ways to check on an expected baby during pregnancy is to have an ultrasound scan. What’s more, this method – also known as a sonogram – is non-invasive and doesn’t harm the expectant mom or unborn baby.
As well as giving medical professionals the chance to examine the developing baby, an ultrasound allows the expectant parents to see an image of their awaited child. But it was during one of these scans that Mason discovered something unusual about her soon-to-be new arrival.
Mason was around 30 weeks pregnant when she went to have the scan in question. And although the mom-to-be had already had many appointments to monitor her expected baby’s growth, this time the sonographer spotted one rather curious detail. Indeed, it was a detail so bizarre that both Mason and the medical professionals were blown away.
According to an interview that Mason gave to SWNS TV, as soon as the ultrasound began, it was clear that all was not what it seemed. “The sonographer woman literally just put the thing on my tummy and just went, ‘Wow!’” the mom recalled.
Now at this point, Mason and her partner had no idea whether they were having a boy or a girl. However, one thing was clear: in the ultrasound image, a distinctive white line could be seen just behind the unborn baby’s head. But what could this almost halo-like apparition have been?
Well, despite the sonographer having intimated as much, the full extent of what she had uncovered wasn’t revealed until Mason gave birth. And so in the early hours of September 26, 2016, little Primrose arrived, bringing with her something not normally seen on one so young: a full head of thick, lustrous hair.
Yes, the white glow that the sonographer had spotted was the developing baby’s curly hair tumbling down the back of her head. And despite the midwives having seen all manner of newborns, even they were shocked by just how hirsute the baby was. It’s also worth mentioning that during her pregnancy, Mason hadn’t appeared to have experienced any of the oft-remarked-upon side effects of carrying a hairy unborn child.
One popular belief surrounding pregnancy is that an expectant mother can experience heartburn. And at least one study has even suggested that the severity of this burning sensation is indeed related to how hairy a baby will turn out to be. But Mason, who’d regularly suffered from heartburn before becoming pregnant, hadn’t experienced such symptoms throughout the nine months.
At any rate, when little Primrose arrived, she came complete with jet-black locks. In most cases, newborns will lose the majority of the hair that they are born with. Why? Well, after a baby is born, their hormone levels fall, and this can cause them to lose some or all of their fuzz. But not Primrose.
It’s also worth noting that some babies who arrive prematurely may still have what’s known as lanugo. This hair protects the fetus while it’s in the womb and usually disappears before the infant is born. However, far from being premature, Mason’s daughter was actually overdue. A full 16 days overdue, to be precise.
And yet Mason revealed that Primrose’s late arrival has been a great source of comedy for everyone around her. “A lot of family and friends have joked [that] she wanted to perfect her hairdo,” the mom revealed. However, they’re not the only ones who appear to have been in awe of the baby’s hairstyle.
During her interview with SWNS, the new mom revealed that people continually comment on little Primrose’s locks. “All the midwives came to the room and said, ‘Is this the baby with all the hair? Can we come and look?’” she explained. And Mason confessed that all the attention has driven her to take drastic measures.
“We are constantly being stopped by people – to the point where if I’m in a rush, and I just want to get my shopping done, I actually put a hat on her,” Mason divulged. Despite this, though, it seems that the mom is proud of her little girl’s locks.
“It’s nice when people come up, and it’s kind of at the stage now where if we go out and people don’t comment on it, we’re kind of like, ‘Why haven’t they mentioned her hair?’” Mason revealed. However, there’s one person who perhaps isn’t too happy about all this extra attention.
And that person is Primrose’s dad. Mason confessed that husband Holloway was a little envious of his offspring’s mane – especially as he himself is “thinning slightly.” What’s more, the mom’s other half seems to have immediately adopted the role of protective father, as he’s refused to let Mason cut the little girl’s hair.
This prompted the new mother to joke that her daughter will “be like Rapunzel when she’s a few years older.” Perhaps when Primrose is a teen and boys arrive on the scene, her father will take Mason’s lighthearted comment seriously. Only time will tell.