Could green light relieve migraine headache pain?
For many migraine sufferers, bright lights mean one thing: pain. But a new study from Harvard Medical School discovered one light color might actually ease the pain.
The experiment involved 69 migraine sufferers. The subjects were brought into a dark room when they had a migraine and were shown four different colors of light: blue, red, amber and green. Researchers found that nearly 80 percent of the time blue, red and amber lights made the headaches worse, but green light actually reduced the severity of migraine headache pain by as much as 20 percent.
“These findings offer real hope to patients with migraines and a promising path forward for researchers and clinicians,” said Rami Burstein, a headache expert and the lead author of the study, in a press release. “What we heard from patients is that green light is calming.”
Migraines affect approximately 10 percent of people worldwide, according to the National Institute of Health. Nearly 80 percent of sufferers experience photophobia, or light sensitivity.
Dr. Melvin Wichter, chair of neurology and co-director of the Neurosciences Institute at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., believes the implications, if proven, could be enormous. “Not only did green light reduce migraine sufferers’ photophobia, but it also reduced the intensity of their headaches,” says Dr. Wichter. “Imagine the potential therapy value, in terms of manipulating your environment and avoiding certain things that have aggravating effects.”
Burstein is working to develop a more affordable light bulb that emits pure green and sunglasses that block all light excluding a narrow band of green. But Dr. Wichter believes a more interesting implication is how it could be applied to a migraine patient. For example, physicians could have green rooms where patients could go when they are experiencing photophobia.
He cautions that many more studies need to be done before any practical implications can be drawn. “The researchers only studied 69 patients,” he says. “Millions of people suffer from migraines. It is one of the most common ailments in the world. Thousands of patients need to be studied before we can start drawing firm conclusions on the effects of green light.”
Dr. Wichter adds that while the study has limitations, if it’s formalized and easily replicated, the findings generate even more hypotheses. “People often seek out green places like forests and greeneries and find them relaxing. Maybe there is a neuropsychiatric reason why,” he suggests. “Maybe green is the answer.”
About the Author
Jacqueline Hughes is the manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.