APR 03, 2015 2:13 PM PDT

LED Therapy Shows Promise in Treating Gulf War Illness, Perhaps Other Maladies

WRITTEN BY: Will Hector
The war on PTSD, Gulf War Illness, and other illnesses suffered by veterans just got a boost from an unexpected source-light.

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 Gulf War Illness, described in an article in the Neuroscience News website.

The article says veterans participating in the study wear a helmet lined with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that apply red and near-infrared light to the scalp. Diodes are also placed in the nostrils of participants to deliver photons to the deeper parts of the brain.

The light is painless and generates no heat during the treatment, which 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 near where the LEDs are placed, which improves blood flow locally.

"We are applying a technology that's been around for a while," says lead investigator Dr. Margaret Naeser, "but it's always been used on the body, for wound healing and to treat muscle aches and pains, and joint problems. We're starting to use it on the brain."

Naeser is a research linguist and speech pathologist for the Boston VA, and a research professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). She is also a licensed acupuncturist and has conducted past research on laser acupuncture to treat paralysis in stroke, and pain in carpal tunnel syndrome.

The LED therapy increases blood flow in the brain, as shown on MRI scans. It also appears to have an effect on damaged brain cells, specifically on their mitochondria. These are bean-shaped subunits within the cell that put out energy in the form of a chemical known as ATP. The red and near-infrared light photons penetrate through the skull and into brain cells and spur the mitochondria to produce more ATP. That can mean clearer, sharper thinking, says Naeser.

Naeser 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.

"The light-emitting diodes add something beyond what's currently available with cognitive rehabilitation therapy," says Naeser. "That's a very important therapy, but patients can go only so far with it. And in fact, most of the traumatic brain injury and PTSD cases that we've helped so far with LEDs on the head have been through cognitive rehabilitation therapy. These people still showed additional progress after the LED treatments. It's likely a combination of both methods would produce the best results."

The LED approach has its skeptics, but Naeser's group has already published some encouraging results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Last June in the Journal of Neurotrauma, they reported the outcomes of LED therapy in 11 patients with chronic TBI, ranging in age from 26 to 62. Most of the injuries occurred in car accidents or on the athletic field. One was a battlefield injury, from an improvised explosive device (IED).

Neuropsychological testing before the therapy and at several points thereafter showed gains in areas such as executive function, verbal learning, and memory. The study volunteers also reported better sleep and fewer PTSD symptoms.

The study authors concluded that the pilot results warranted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial-the gold standard in medical research.
That's happening now, thanks to VA support. One trial, already underway, aims to enroll 160 Gulf War veterans. Half the veterans will get the real LED therapy for 15 sessions, while the others will get a mock version, using sham lights.

Then the groups will switch, so all the volunteers will end up getting the real therapy, although they won't know at which point they received it. After each veteran's last real or sham treatment, he or she will undergo tests of brain function.

Naeser points out that "because this is a blinded, controlled study, neither the participant nor the assistant applying the LED helmet and the intranasal diodes is aware whether the LEDs are real or sham. So they both wear goggles that block out the red LED light." The near-infrared light is invisible to begin with.

Besides the Gulf War study, other trials of the LED therapy are getting underway:
• Later this year, a trial will launch for veterans age 18 to 55 who have both traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder-a common combination in recent war veterans. The VA-funded study will be led by Naeser's colleague Dr. Jeffrey Knight, a psychologist with VA's National Center for PTSD and an assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM.
• Dr. Yelena Bogdanova, a clinical psychologist with VA and assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM, will lead a VA-funded trial looking at the impact of LED therapy on sleep and cognition in veterans with blast TBI.
• Naeser is collaborating on an Army study testing LED therapy, delivered via the helmets and the nose diodes, for active-duty soldiers with blast TBI.

The study, funded by the Army's Advanced Medical Technology Initiative, will also test the feasibility and effectiveness of using only the nasal LED devices-and not the helmets-as an at-home, self-administered treatment. The study leader is Dr. Carole Palumbo, an investigator with VA and the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, and an associate professor of neurology at BUSM.

Naeser hopes the work will validate LED therapy as a viable treatment for veterans and others with brain difficulties. She foresees potential not only for war injuries but for conditions such as depression, stroke, dementia, and even autism.

"There are going to be many applications, I think. We're just in the beginning stages right now."

(Source: NeuroscienceNews.com)
About the Author
  • Will Hector practices psychotherapy at Heart in Balance Counseling Center in Oakland, California. He has substantial training in Attachment Theory, Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Psycho-Physical Therapy, and Formative Psychology. To learn more about his practice, click here: http://www.heartinbalancetherapy.com/will-hector.html
You May Also Like
OCT 21, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Cholesterol Drug Regrows Neurons After Spinal Cord Injury
OCT 21, 2021
Cholesterol Drug Regrows Neurons After Spinal Cord Injury
Fenofibrate, an FDA-approved drug used to reduce cholesterol levels, causes sensory neurons in the spine following spina ...
NOV 15, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Injectable Therapy Reverses Paralysis within 4 Weeks
NOV 15, 2021
Injectable Therapy Reverses Paralysis within 4 Weeks
Researchers have developed an injectable therapy that can repair tissue damage and reverse paralysis in mice within four ...
NOV 18, 2021
Immunology
Could Maternal Antibodies Contribute to Autism Development?
NOV 18, 2021
Could Maternal Antibodies Contribute to Autism Development?
Pregnant mothers pass on oxygen and nutrients to their developing babies while shuttling away waste products from the fe ...
NOV 19, 2021
Neuroscience
Exercise Fights Inflammation by Increasing Body's Own Cannabis Production
NOV 19, 2021
Exercise Fights Inflammation by Increasing Body's Own Cannabis Production
Exercise increases the body’s production of endocannabinoids, which in turn reduces inflammation and pain in condi ...
JAN 05, 2022
Technology
A Digital Therapeutic for IBS Pain Management?
JAN 05, 2022
A Digital Therapeutic for IBS Pain Management?
Digital therapeutics (DTx) continue to rise in prevalence and scientific efficacy. While technology is nothing new in he ...
JAN 18, 2022
Cardiology
New Study Links Mental Stress to Cardiovascular Disease
JAN 18, 2022
New Study Links Mental Stress to Cardiovascular Disease
We all know stress is bad for us. A new study confirms that psychological stress leads to greater risk for our hearts.
Loading Comments...