Research gives green light for migraine relief
Written by James Kingsland on September 30, 2020 — Fact checked by Zia Sherrell, MPH
A pilot study suggests that exposure to green light of a particular wavelength and brightness may be as effective as drugs in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine.
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According to the Migraine Research Foundation, about 12% of people in the United States experience migraine.
The condition involves moderate-to-severe headaches, which often accompany debilitating symptoms, such as visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme sensitivity to sound and light.
Affected individuals frequently report having a lower quality of life and needing to take time off work as a result of their condition. Research suggests that they are more likely to use and overuse pain relief medications, including opioids.
Some people do not get adequate pain control from drugs or experience unpleasant side effects when they take them. Finding alternative therapies to replace or complement these treatments is, therefore, a priority.
One possibility is light therapy. Previous research by doctors at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson found that green light had pain-relieving effects in rats.
The same team has now conducted the first clinical study of green light as a preventive therapy for migraine, with promising results.
“As a physician, this is really exciting,” says lead author Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, an associate professor at the college and director of its Chronic Pain Management Clinic. “Now, I have another tool in my toolbox to treat one of the most difficult neurological conditions — migraine.”
The researchers report their study in Cephalalgia, the journal of the International Headache Society.
Daily light session
The researchers recruited 29 people, seven of whom had episodic migraine (defined as up to 14 headache days per month), while 22 had chronic migraine (15 or more headache days per month for 3 or more months). All of the participants were unsatisfied with their current treatment.
Initially, for 10 weeks, the participants spent 1–2 hours daily at home in an otherwise dark room lit by a white LED (light-emitting diode) strip. The white lighting served as a control condition.
A “washout period” of 2 weeks without any light treatment followed.
Finally, for a further 10 weeks, all 29 individuals spent 1–2 hours daily with an LED strip emitting green light with a wavelength of about 525 nanometers and the same brightness as the white light.
The researchers encouraged the participants to stay awake during the light treatment and do things that required no additional lighting, such as reading a book, listening to music, or doing exercise.
Throughout the study, each participant filled out questionnaires reporting the number of headaches that they experienced and their intensity. In addition, they answered questions relating to quality of life, such as their ability to work and to fall and stay asleep.