(CNN)It will be as easy as brushing your teeth or shaving, and as long as future studies support it, it just might save your eyesight.
Declining eyesight can be improved by looking at red light, pilot study says
A few minutes of looking into a deep red light could have a dramatic effect on preventing eyesight decline as we age, according to a new study published this week in The Journals of Gerontology.
If the results are replicated in future studies, and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the light could augur a new era in which millions of people have access to the easy home-based therapy. It would give them a new layer of protection against the natural aging processes that steal our eyes' sensitivity to light and ability to distinguish colors.
"You don't need to use it for very long to start getting a strong result," said lead author Glen Jeffery, a professor of neuroscience at University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology.
The science works, Jeffery said, because the light stimulates the health of mitochondria, which are like batteries in our cells.
And because mitochondria are implicated in a broad range of diseases, insights like these could help lead to new treatments for diseases including Parkinson's and diabetes.
The study was small, a pilot study to test the concept. Researchers recruited 12 men and 12 women, whose ages ranged from 28 to 72. Each participant was given a small handheld flashlight that emitted a red light with a wavelength of 670 nanometers. That wavelength is toward the long end of the visible spectrum, and just short of an infrared wavelength, which tends to be invisible to the human eye.
They spent three minutes each day looking into the light over a period of two weeks.
The lights work on both cones and rods in the eye. Cones are photo receptor cells that detect color and work best in well-lit situations. Rods, which are much more plentiful, are retina cells that specialize in helping us see in dim light, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Researchers measured the cone function in subjects' eyes by having them identify colored letters with low contrast. And they measured their eyes' rod sensitivity by asking them to detect light signals in the dark.