A new study from the University of Arizona says that exposure to green light may help to relieve chronic pain. Learn how one woman responded to the therapy.
Anna Jones, a 70-year-old woman from Tucson, Arizona, had suffered from migraines since she was a child. She had tried everything short of surgery to relieve her chronic migraines, and each year, they only kept getting worse.
Some of the treatments work initially, but the effects are only temporary. What’s worse, most of the medications have very strong side effects that Jones cannot continue to withstand.
“It was pretty life-changing and debilitating,” Jones said. “I could either plow through them and sometimes I simply couldn’t.”
In 2018, Jones’s doctor told her about the study that was being done at the University of Arizona. The researchers were testing whether daily exposure to green light could relieve chronic pain from conditions such as migraines.
At the beginning, when Jones learned about the study, she thought it was another treatment that wouldn’t work. But it didn’t stop her from trying it.
The study consisted of spending two hours in a dark room with only a white light, which served as the control. The second part of the study was to swap the white light for a string of green LED lights.
Jones felt no change in her symptoms in the first month. It was not until she did the treatment for 6 weeks that there was a noticeable change.
The first change was not having a migraine for several consecutive days. Also, if she had a headache, it was not as intense as what she was used to having before the green light therapy.
“I got to the point where I was having about four migraines a month, if that many, and I felt like I had just been cut free,” Jones said.
Some patients in the study noticed changes in their symptoms in the first few days. Others took a few weeks. Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, the study’s principal investigator, says that on average, people experienced a 60% decrease in the intensity of their migraines and a drop from 20 migraines a month to 6.
The results of the study have not yet been published. The researchers relied on a small, but growing, body of research suggesting that there is a relationship between green light and pain, including the research done by Ibrahim’s team on animals. There is still no solid data in humans, but they see promise for a drug-free approach that could help chronic pain and migraine.
Why the color green?
Several research teams are exploring why there’s a link between green light and pain.
The research led by Rodrigo Noseda at Harvard Medical School revealed that green light is significantly less likely than other colors to intensify migraines and, in some situations, may actually decrease headache frequency. It also showed that the green light can trigger positive emotions during migraines.
In Ibrahim’s research, the team noticed a drop in the response to pain in animals that could see green either from external light or through green lenses.
“We basically made the conclusion that whatever effect is happening is taking place through the visual system,” he said. “That’s why when we recruited patients, we told them you cannot fall asleep when you’re undergoing this therapy.”
Ibrahim says there’s more research to do, but what they have found has offered some clues. He’s also studying the effect of green light therapy on fibromyalgia, nerve pain related to HIV, and chemotherapy and interstitial cystitis.