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Can green light treatment help to prevent migraines?

For migraine sufferers, the pain can last for days. Could green LED light therapy work?

A woman with a migraine. Migraine is believed to be due to a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. Image by Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids. Via Wiki CC BY 2.0
A woman with a migraine. Migraine is believed to be due to a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. Image by Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids. Via Wiki CC BY 2.0

Migraine headache is the third most common disease in the world affecting about 1 in 7 people. The condition prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. Migraines are accompanied by an increased sensitivity to visual or other sensory stimuli.

In response to migraine treatments, three new areas of research into the painful condition are examined.

Green light therapy

A new study from University of Arizona Health Sciences has found that green light therapy resulted in about a 60 percent reduction in the pain intensity of the headache phase and number of days per month people experienced migraine headaches.

For a majority of study participants (86 percent of episodic migraine patients and 63 percent of chronic migraine patients) reported a more than 50 percent reduction in headache days per month, when patients were exposed to green light emitting diodes.

This study explores the original research of Harvard neurologist, Dr. Rami Burstein who first discovered that this specific band of green light has the capability of reducing migraine pain and frequency. The light he used in his lab originally cost roughly $50,000 – and he obviously knew that this wouldn’t be able to help migraine sufferers unless he could get the light into something that was easier to use and more cost effective. 

Dr. Burstien teamed up with a couple entrepreneurs and a NASA engineer to figure out how to do just that. With their help they created a lamp that emitted the specific band of green light that soothes migraine pain and that was easily accessible to migraine sufferers. 

The study appears in the journal Cephalalgia, with the research titled “Evaluation of green light exposure on headache frequency and quality of life in migraine patients: A preliminary one-way cross-over clinical trial.”

The brain of migraine sufferers is hyper-excitable

People who suffer from migraine headaches seem to have a hyper-excitable visual cortex, according to researchers based at the Universities of Birmingham and Lancaster (U.K.) The causes of migraines are not well understood, although they may be related to temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves, or blood vessels in the brain.

Supporting experiments showed that study participants also showed hyperexcitability in the response of their visual cortex.

With this finding, researchers set out to test a theory that at least part of the answer lies in the visual cortex. This is the part of our brain that is responsible for vision. This suggests a link between migraine experiences and abnormalities in the visual cortex.

The research is published in the journal Neuroimage: Clinical. The research paper is: “Differences in early and late pattern-onset visual-evoked potentials between self- reported migraineurs and controls.”

Causality between blood clot factors and migraine with aura

One subtype of migraine is migraine with aura. Thus is where suffers see flashing lights, blind spots, or jagged lines in their visual field prior to onset of their migraine headaches.

Such individuals face a heightened risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, although scientists continue to explore why this correlation exists.

In a new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, scientists showed the correlation by deploying a technique in genetic analysis named Mendelian randomization. This was used to examine 12 coagulation measures, uncovering four that are associated with migraine susceptibility.

Their findings suggests that these haemostatic factors could potentially have a causal role in migraines with an aura.

The results are published in the journal Neurology. See: “Association Between Hemostatic Profile and Migraine.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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