Health

Got Migraines? Green Light May Help

New research finds that migraine sufferers may reduce headache frequency and intensity with green light therapy.

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Are you suffering from migraines? If your answer is yes, I have some good news for you. Researchers from the University of Arizona Health Sciences (USA) recently reported that people who suffer from migraines might improve from green light therapy.

Got migraines? You are not alone

Migraine is the #3 most common illness worldwide, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. The condition affects 39 million people (or 12 percent of the population) in the USA and one billion worldwide. That represents one in four US households that have a member with migraines.

The condition is most commonl identified between the ages of 18 and 44 years. In the USA, 18 percent of women, 6 percent, 10 percent experience migraines. Upwards of 90 percent of those who suffer from migraines have a family history of it.

The condition is most common between ages 18 and 44 years. In the USA, 18 percent of women, 6 percent, 10 percent experience migraines. Upwards of 90 percent of those who suffer with migraines have a family history of migraine.

What is green light therapy?

Light hitting the retina (located at the back of our eyes) triggers electrical signals in the retina and the brain. The most massive signals are created by red and blue light, with green light making the smallest signals. Perhaps this is why green light is the least likely to bother those with marked light sensitivity or photophobia. Green light therapy requires a specialized lamp that produces a narrow band of green light while filtering out other light types.

In 2016, Harvard researchers observed that green light had a much lower probability of exacerbating migraine symptoms than amber, blue, red, or white light. Nearly 80 percent of their study subjects reported worse symptoms with exposure to every color except green. Twenty percent said that green light exposure reduced their migraine pain. With this in mind, the researchers considered using green light to try to lower the photophobia intensity and migraine pain.

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In this context, scientists at the University of Arizona (USA) turned to the use of green light (from LED strips) to manage nerve pain in rats. They created three groups:

  • rats bathed in green light from LED strips
  • rats exposed to room light, with contact lenses allowing green spectrum wavelength to pass through
  • rats with opaque contact lenses that blocked green light

The two groups exposed to green light had a reduction in pain, lasting four days from the last exposure. The group not exposed to green light derived no benefits. The researchers hypothesize that green light may increase pain-relieving chemicals in the brain.

The recent study: Green light improves migraine symptoms

University of Arizona College of Medicine (USA) researchers (USA) have reported the first clinical study evaluating green light exposure as a potential prevention maneuver for migraine headaches. Here are the bottom line findings:

  • Green light exposure reduced the monthly headache frequency by an average of 60 percent.
  • Eighty-six percent of those with episodic migraines and 63 percent of those with chronic migraines had a more than halving of their headache days per month.

Given these results, it is perhaps not surprising that 28 of 29 participants opted to keep the light at the study’s end.

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What the researchers did

Patients had exposure to white light for one to two hours daily, over ten weeks. Following a break of two weeks, they then had exposure to a green light for ten weeks. The study participants completed surveys throughout the study, tracking headache frequency and intensity and quality of life measures. The last included measures of sleep and work performance

The subjects rated pain on a 0 to 10 scale, with an average 60 percent drop in pain (from 8 to 3.2). Also, green light shortened headache duration while improving the ability to fall and stay asleep, do chores, work, and exercise. They reported no side effects of the light intervention.

While preliminary, these findings raise the question of how the green light is working its magic. What is happening on a biologic level? I look forward to seeing whether future studies confirm the promise of green light for migraine management.

Thank you for joining me today. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

References

I have degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Penn. I am a radiation oncologist in the Seattle area. You may find me regularly posting at

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