Light therapy, an exposure to both controlled natural daylight and artificial light of specific wavelengths, is already successfully used to treat mental and sleep disorders. It also seems to be a new a safe and cost-effective alternative for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, seasonal depression and cognitive disorders.
A recent comprehensive study had a closer look at the growing knowledge on the how and to which extend light therapy can be used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Here are the summarized findings of the study.
First, the “how” and “to which extend” question.
Our body function is aligned to a circadian (or day/night) rhythm. We have our own biological clock that controls this rhythm in different ways. One way is through the genes, that are expressed in the region of the brain, called hypothalamus. Inappropriate functioning of these genes can disrupt the rhythmic rhythm and lead to a number of diseases, such as neurodegenerative, metabolic and sleep disorders. The good news is that the external stimuli such as light, physical activity and food can help reset the clock and restore normal circadian rhythms, making the symptoms of diseases less severe.
Another way of our body to control circadian rhythms is through the secretion of the melatonin hormone. Melatonin is secreted in higher amounts in the night than in the day and helps master our sleep. Light stimulation suppresses the secretion of melatonin during the day time and makes us feel awake.
Interestingly, various tissues and organs in the body respond differently to light stimulation. Moreover, the response of our body to light can be different, depending on specific wavelengths of light.
As for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, preliminary clinical studies on patients with Alzheimer’s suggest that light stimulation helps restore memory and cognition and decreases the accumulation of harmful amyloid-β protein in the brain.
Furthermore, light therapy has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration in people with sleep disorders, while bright environments help reduce anxiety and aggressive behaviors in people with dementia.
In case of Parkinson, light therapy has been shown to decrease only non-motor symptoms (such as insomnia, depression and fatigue) to some extent, while the core motor symptoms seem not to benefit from it.
The use of light therapy in other neurodegenerative diseases is currently at testing stages.
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