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Green Light Therapy Benefits for Migraines & Pain Management

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Green light therapy - Dr. Axe

Light therapy involves the use of different wavelengths of light in order to have therapeutic effects related to pain, sleep and mood regulation. Green light therapy is one emerging light treatment that may be capable of decreasing migraine intensity and pain due to conditions such as fibromyalgia.

While more research is needed to confirm how effective green lighting is, there’s also reason to believe it may help improve sleep quality and moods.

The best part? Studies so far suggest that use of green light exposure is very safe, especially compared to long-term use of pain-killing medications, and it’s affordable too.

What Is Green Light Therapy?

Green light therapy is exposure to green light, which is a narrow wavelength of light. Green light has been shown in some research to be less aggravating than other light wavelengths (such as blue, red, white and amber light) that can sometimes trigger migraines and possibly worsen pain.

Does light therapy really work? According to a Harvard Medical School specialist in headache research named Rami Burstein, treatments using green lighting can be helpful for many people who deal with headaches and other types of chronic pain.

Burnstein is responsible for helping create the “Allay lamp,” which uses a narrow band of green light that seems to have soothing effects on the brain.

Ordinary green light bulbs emit light in a wide wavelength range between 490–565 nanometers. To be even more effective, Bernstein believes that green light must be in an even more narrow band of light between 510 to 530 nanometers.

In order to benefit from green lighting, someone must be exposed to this specific, narrow band of green light from a special lamp or device, ideally while also blocking out other light wavelengths that can have the opposite effects on pain-modulating systems in the brain.

Benefits for Migraines and Pain

What is green light therapy used for? Recently it’s been recommended most for people who suffer from migraines.

Research suggests that photophobia, or extreme sensitivity to light, is involved in more than 80 percent of migraine attacks, yet green lighting seems to have a neutral or positive effect on the brain compared to other light wavelengths.

How does green light help migraines?

Light affects things like your pain tolerance and mood via the visual cortex by activating receptors in the eyes that send signals to the brain. Light wavelengths travel from the retinas in the backs of the eyes into the part of the brain where neurons are found that can contribute to issues including headaches.

Because certain types of light, including blue and white light, can trigger headaches in some people some who are sensitive to these wavelengths, some now choose to wear migraine glasses to block some light from reaching their eyes, while others experiment with using green light exposure to counteract the effects of other types of light.

Certain studies suggest that green light seems capable of impacting pain-modulating systems in the brain, which can help prevent exacerbation of migraine headaches and potentially ease photophobia among migraine sufferers. It’s thought this is due to green light producing smaller electrical signals in the eyes and brain compared to other wavelengths.

Experts also believe that green lighting can stimulate release of endogenous endorphins and stimulate the cannabinoid system, which results in improved moods and higher pain tolerance.

What else can green lighting be used or?

Other potential uses of green light therapy include:

  • Helping reduce discomfort among people dealing with chronic pain, such as those with fibromyalgia.
  • Potentially having mood-boosting effects and even helping treat depression.
  • Contributing to better sleep (unlike blue light emitted from electronic devices, which tends to disrupt sleep).
  • Supporting skin healing. According to the Allay Lamp website, “green light targets dark circles, pigmentation, broken capillaries and sunspots, and as a result could have an impact on skin pigmentation. It also calms irritated or over-stimulated skin.”

Research is still underway to determine how different forms of light, including green, blue and white light wavelengths, may impact the amount of pain people feel after surgery or when dealing with fibromyalgia. So far, the few studies that have been done using humans and animals suggest that green light entering the eyes may help people cope with pain better, although there’s still lots more to learn.

An ongoing 2018 randomized, clinical trial involving fibromyalgia patients and those with regular migraines is being conducted to determine whether the use of LED green light strips at home every day for three months can have positive effects on pain and quality of life. The investigators’ hypothesis is that participants exposed to green and blue light will have less use of analgesics and will have better life quality.

According to researchers involved in the study:

investigators have shown green and blue Light emitting diode, (LED) light produced antinociception (analgesia) and reversed neuropathic pain associated with several models of chronic pain… the analgesic effects seen are mainly due to systemic effect through the visual system. Preliminary experiments on rats suggest that this effect is mediated through the endogenous opioids and cannabinoid system.

Green light also seems to have a beneficial effect on sleep and moods, according to studies done by Steven Lockley, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

How often should you do light therapy?

This is still being determined based on going study results. Some people have reported using green light devices when they feel a migraine coming on, while others take preventive measures and choose to use one daily for about an hour or more.

In the clinical trial mentioned above, patients with pain are being treated with green light by sitting in a dark room for two hours daily over the course of three months.

Other Complementary Therapies

If you’re someone who struggles with intense headaches, recurring aches and pains, or depression, some of these complementary therapies are likely to be beneficial:

  • Consider light-blocking glasses — While exposure to natural light benefits most people, such as by helping them maintain normal vitamin D levels and by promoting synthesis of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin, some people may be sensitive to bright light and experience headaches as a result. Special types of light-blocking sunglasses may be helpful in this case. You can look for migraine glasses sold online or ask your doctor for  a recommendation. Avoiding headache triggers such as bright lights indoors, loud noises, dehydration, over-exercise and sleep deprivation is also important for managing symptoms.
  • Red light therapy — Depending on the cause of someone’s pain, red light therapy may help reduce discomfort by decreasing inflammation and promoting healing. Red light is a low-light wavelength that penetrates through the skin and is thought to naturally jump-start the process of tissue recovery and other forms of rejuvenation. It’s now being used to reduce swelling and chronic joint disorders; promote healing of wounds, deeper tissues and nerves; and treat neurological disorders and chronic pain.
  • Stress reduction — Chronic stress can worsen muscular tension, headaches and sleep quality. However, there are many steps you can take to keep stress under control. Here are some stress-relieving activities to experiment with:
    • Keeping a journal to identify patterns and track symptoms.
    • Exercising daily.
    • Getting enough sleep each night, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule.
    • Relaxing before bedtime by taking a warm bath, reading, stretching, taking a walk outside or listening to soothing music.
    • Avoiding too much caffeine and alcohol.
    • Trying meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and tai chi.
    • Visiting  practitioner who specialized in massage therapy or biofeedback therapy.

Risks and Side Effects

The use of green lighting to help prevent and treat pain seems to be relatively low-risk and is also somewhat affordable compared to many other treatments. It’s possible to buy green light bulbs for under $10 at hardware stores, although they aren’t as effective the Allay lamp mentioned above, which costs about $200.

According to some experts who have been involved in preliminary studies, practically no one has reported any negative side effects so far due to green light therapy.

However, at this time most experts feel that reliable research on the topic of green light is still lacking. Green light therapy still needs a large, placebo-controlled trial before it will be prescribed by most doctors, but preliminary findings do seem promising.

Conclusion

  • Green light therapy involves the use of green lighting, a narrow wavelength of light, that seems to help manage migraines and other types of pain.
  • Studies conducted so far suggest that green light can reduce migraine/headache intensity, decrease chronic pain due to conditions such as fibromyalgia, and potentially increase positive emotions and sleep quality.
  • For those who regularly deal with headaches, exposure to green lighting may soothe areas of the brain that make pain worse, while “migraine glasses” that block out disrupting light may also be helpful.
  • This form of light therapy, which is considered to be very low-risk and affordable, also seems to have a wide variety of potential uses related to improvements in moods and decreased depression, as well as improvements in skin health.
Josh Axe

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