The purposes of this article, which I will endeavour to keep updated, is to act as a central resource of information on light therapy and its applications to Parkinson's Disease.
Light therapy, delivered in a variety of ways, has been found to be of significant benefit to many people with PD, and there is an increasing amount of scientific studies emerging which back this. As a starting point, I highly recommend taking ten minutes to watch this fascinating seminar by Prof. Gerald Pollock of University of Washington, which may begin to explain some of the mechanisms of how light helps people with PD and other chronic diseases.
I also highly recommend the chapter "Rewiring a Brain with Light" in Dr Norman Doidge's book
However, where we personally got started and first discovered the profound potentials in light therapy for Parkinson's Disease specifically, was via the work of Dr Greg Willis and his Bronowski Institute. Here are some of Dr Willis's papers which we found, studied, and then implemented early on (see the "In Depth" section below for further details).
Our research then led us to discover that many, many workers have found similar positive results, and continue to do so. Even the benefits of strategic light therapy "simply" for improving sleep - which is typically chronically disrupted in people with PD - should not be understated. This because it is during periods of good sleep when the brain clears itself of waste products and the body repairs itself. Therefore for people who are already neuro-compromised, broken sleep and the resulting build of toxins in the brain is a fast track to a vicious circle of further degeneration.
Here, I am trying to keep an up-to-date list of articles on the science of all this:
A trial of wearable light therapy (blue light glasses) for applications to Parkinson's Disease is underway at Radboud University Medical Center Nijmegen, following on from my initial self-experiments (see below) and subsequent user trial with the manufacturers, Propeaq. Contact: Dr. Katarzyna Smilowska.
Here are a couple more interesting and relevant videos:
This next video record shows the physically manifest, immediate impact on my drug-induced Dyskinesia (large scale, uncontrolled movement due to excessive l-dopa in my system). You can see how quickly looking at the very bright stopped this flailing motion. However, in this case, I found the combination of light intensity and proximity I was using was probably too powerful - it sent me in to a kind of "fugue" state. The lightbox I have is ten times more powerful than the ones Dr Willis recommended and reported using in his studies. However, it does show there are indeed definitely remarkable outcomes of stimulating the retina in People with Parkinson's.
In Depth: Dr Greg Willis
"In the early years of dopamine theory it was generally accepted that the more severe the cell loss, the more severe the dopamine deficiency and the more severe the Parkinson’s disease. However, this position has been very gradually eroded by the ongoing demonstration that this relationship is a poor one. In fact, recent work has demonstrated that Parkinson’s disease can develop with only 30% loss of dopamine (Annals of Neurology, 67(6) 715-725, 2010) suggesting that it is not only the level of dopamine that is important. This has important implications for treating the disease and is consistent with our approach using coordinated drug and light treatment."
Willis' understanding of the mechanisms of Parkinson's Disease is a little different from the standard, accepted picture. He argues that it is not just about the lack of production of dopamine but that the balance between dopamine and melatonin, the substance responsible for making us sleepy, is whats broken. It is this imbalance, he argues, which can cause many of the symptoms of PD. so it's not just that there isn't enough dopamine in the system, but there is actually too much melatonin, relatively speaking.
Willis' idea for a solution based on his working hypothesis is simple - as well as using drugs to replace the dopamine, he uses bright lights to reduce the melatonin. His treatment plans use strategic applications of lights, of the right frequency at the right time of day for the right duration, to attack melatonin and deplete it, restoring the balance with dopamine. His published results speak for themselves and he has data now including from people with Parkinson's he has been treating this way for years. According to what we took from his papers for ourselves... it works! Central to Willis' arguments is the role of the stimulation of the retina.
My Personal Case History
We began by following the procedure that Dr Willis explained in his 2007 paper, using the light for one hour before bed, in order to attack melatonin at its peak, apart from using a more powerful light than in his study and so I reduced the lamps proximity accordingly. Dr Willis reports seeing major results in timescales of weeks in virtually all the people involved in his tests. Indeed, after sitting in front of the light for an hour each night, I too found my sleep had improved and my rigidity and pain decreased. However, if I wasn't compliant and missed a couple of doses at night, my symptoms would return.
Later, we discovered wearable light technology, which makes the application of the light therapy much more convenient and practical. Given the aim of Dr Willis' strategy to reduce the melatonin-dopamine imbalance, which was indeed working for me, it seemed appropriate to choose the blue light glasses supplied by Propeaq. I have continued to use the strategy of one hour exposure before bed, but swapped the bright light box for the light glasses. I do feel this increased the benefits, and that for me, these benefits have been cumulative in the long term. See my full report on trialling the wearables for further information.