A promising new therapy that could improve brain function and provide relief for patients with PTSD and other conditions is now being tested on group of 160 veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.
Light therapy, also known as LED therapy, is a painless, non-invasive treatment involving the placement of red and near-infrared light-emitting diodes in a patient's nasal cavity and on the scalp. The 30-minute treatment sessions have been shown in pilot testing to increase blood flow in the brain.
It is also believed that the mitochondrial function of damaged brain cells is affected by the therapy and that the treatment might aid the brain in self healing.
This technology is not new; it has been used by practitioners of alternative medicine to treat muscle pain and heal wounds, but it has only recently been used to treat the brain.
Initial testing of the therapy involved 11 patients suffering from chronic TBI( traumatic brain injury). Some of the injuries were caused by auto accidents, others were sports-related and one was from an explosive device. Testing before and after the treatments showed improvements in " areas such as executive function, verbal learning, and memory." Participants also reported getting better sleep along with a decrease in PTSD symptoms. The initial trials were promising enough to warrant further research, which has led to the VA's involvement in the new trials.
The first of the controlled trials are already underway at the VA Boston Healthcare Center. They entail the treatment of veterans suffering from a combination of PTSD and TBI. More therapeutic trials are being planned for later this year and will include the treatment of active soldiers who have problems associated with blast TBI as well as other brain difficulties common among veterans and soldiers.
The expanded research will consist of randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Each participant will receive 15 sessions of the real LED treatment or a placebo treatment using fake lights.
After 15 sessions, the group will switch, and those who had received the placebo will then receive the real treatment and vice versa. Neither the participants not the assistants who admminister the treatment will be aware who is receiving the real treatment and who is receiving the placebo.
The treatment involves the use of an LED helmet and intranasal diodes. The volunteers and the assistants wear goggles that bolck out the red LED light, making it impossible for either to know whether the real LED's are involved. The near-infrared light is invisible
Naeser believes that many of the injuries and conditions common to veterans-brain damage from explosions, pesticides or other neurotoxins-might involve impairment of mitochodrial function in brain cells. Pairing LED therapy with the other standard treatments designed to stimulate the creation of new neural networks could prove to be an effective combination.
If the treatments are proven to be effective, other applications could be developed in the future. Naeser believes that if the trials are indeed successful, the therapy could be useful not only for those suffering from war injuries but also for treating " depression, stroke, dementia, and even autism."
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