Migraine sufferers often experience debilitating pain with symptoms that go beyond a terrible headache. Many migraines are accompanied by vomiting, blurred vision, and tremendous sensitivity to light, which can make the individual very uncomfortable anywhere other than a dark, silent room. But there is potential hope on the horizon. New research suggests that, surprisingly, people with migraines may respond to a simple form of light therapy.
The study, which took place at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, found that the use of a narrow band green light may help those with migraines find some relief.1 Noseda, Rodrigo; et al. “Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways.” Brain. 17 May 2016. Accessed 22 May 2016. http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/05/16/brain.aww119 The subjects were 69 adults who had all been diagnosed with migraine headaches.
During an acute migraine episode, the participants were exposed to varying intensities of blue, green, amber, and red light. When the light was at a high intensity, similar to what would occur in a typical office, close to 80 percent of the volunteers said that their headache worsened. The exception, however, was in green light. When green light was used, the patients reported a pain reduction of approximately 20 percent. The volunteers were also monitored through a measurement of the electrical signals occurring in the retina of the eye and in the cortex of the brain in response to each different color of light. The green light produced the smallest electrical signals within both the retina and the cortex.
To learn more about the effect of various light colors on pain magnitude, the scientists performed a second experiment with animal models. The results showed that the blue and red spectrums of light produce more pain than amber and green. Amber causes a middling degree of pain, and green brings about the least pain. In addition, the results pointed to the role of the thalamus area of the brain as bearing responsibility. This makes sense since the thalamus is the part of the brain that relays the information we receive from our eyes to the cortex of the brain, helping us to achieve visual perception.
While the investigation is limited to some extent by the small number of participants included, it does benefit from the use of both human and animal subjects drawing correlating conclusions. And we know that light affects the brain, contributing to conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with light therapy often being a beneficial form of treatment. For SAD, light is typically used to stimulate the cells of the retina and reset circadian rhythms to improve symptoms in patients who become lethargic and depressed during the shorter days of winter.
For migraine sufferers, the use of light might not help resolve the headache itself, but it appears that it can significantly improve the light sensitivity, or photophobia, that accompanies the headaches in more than 80 percent of cases. The photophobia makes the headache notably worse and is frequently the factor that drives migraine patients to isolate themselves in darkness for the duration of the attack.
Light therapy is generally considered safe except for use by those with preexisting eye conditions or bipolar disorder and would be a great addition to any roster of treatments for combating migraines. Unfortunately, most of the methods currently recommended by physicians focus solely on pharmaceutical medications for migraine relief. But these drugs can have major side effects, including heart problems, drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea. In fact, these side effects can be so severe that, if you are not experiencing migraines regularly, your doctor may simply suggest riding them out and enduring the pain to avoid the potential problems associated with the pharmaceutical treatments.
It may be some time before light therapy is confirmed as beneficial to migraine sufferers and thus becomes widely available. In the meantime, there are natural ways to deal with migraines. First and foremost, you should try to determine what your triggers may be. Certain elements, such as the weather, obviously cannot be helped. However, foods like chocolate and wine are very common triggers and should be eliminated from your diet for a period to see whether their absence affects migraine frequency. You also might want to try to lose excess weight and use a natural hormone balancing formula, since a 2015 study at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland found that, at least in women, migraines might be affected by different levels of certain hormone altering fats in the bloodstream.2 Peterlin, BL; et al. “Interictal, circulating sphingolipids in women with episodic migraine: A case-control study.” Neurology. October 2015. Accessed 23 May 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26354990
|↑1||Noseda, Rodrigo; et al. “Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways.” Brain. 17 May 2016. Accessed 22 May 2016. http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/05/16/brain.aww119|
|↑2||Peterlin, BL; et al. “Interictal, circulating sphingolipids in women with episodic migraine: A case-control study.” Neurology. October 2015. Accessed 23 May 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26354990|