Researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System are currently testing the effects of light therapy on brain function in veterans with Gulf War Illness.
The current study is following up on promising results from a pilot study in which veteran participants reported fewer symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and better sleep after receiving light therapy. They also experienced gains in executive function, verbal learning and memory.
Gulf War Illness, also called Gulf War Syndrome, is a chronic disorder affecting veterans and civilians who took part in the Gulf War. It features a wide range of symptoms, including cognitive problems, fatigue, muscle pain, rashes and diarrhea.
Veterans in the study wear a helmet lined with light-emitting diodes that apply red and near-infrared light to the scalp. Diodes are also placed in their nostrils, to deliver photons to the deeper parts of the brain.
The light, which is painless and generates no heat, has been shown to increase the output of nitric oxide near where the LEDs are placed, which improves blood flow in that location. A treatment takes about 30 minutes.
Although still considered an investigational procedure, light therapy is already being used by some alternative medicine practitioners to treat wounds and pain.