Following up on promising results from pilot work, researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System are testing the effects of light therapy on brain function in veterans with the Gulf War Illness.
Veterans in the study wear a helmet lined with light-emitting diodes that apply red and near-infrared light to the scalp. They also have diodes placed in their nostrils, to deliver photons to the deeper parts of the brain. The light is painless and generates no heat. A treatment takes about 30 minutes.
The therapy, though still considered ‘investigational’ and not covered by most health insurance plans, is already used by some alternative medicine practitioners to treat wounds and pain. The light from the diodes has been shown to boost the output of nitric oxide where the LEDs are placed, which improves blood flow in that location.
Dr Margaret Naeser, a research linguist and speech pathologist for the Boston VA, and a research professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), says brain damage caused by explosions, or exposure to pesticides or other neurotoxins—such as in the Gulf War—could impair the mitochondria in cells. She believes light therapy can be a valuable adjunct to standard cognitive rehabilitation, which typically involves ‘exercising’ the brain in various ways to take advantage of brain plasticity and forge new neural networks.
Image Courtesy: Naeser Lab