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Scientists say study indicates that green light may help relieve pain

Why it matters to you

If this technique proves to be clinically effective on humans, pain relief could be a green light away.

Green has long been the color of nature and envy, even if more recently it’s been associated with money and traffic lights. Now, however, some researchers think there may be another use for it — as a potential pain reliever.

University of Arizona professor Mohab Ibrahim was first inspired to undertake the study by his brother’s seemingly unusual treatment for his headaches.

“I used to recommend some NSAIDs for him, but on many occasions he declines,” Ibrahim told Digital Trends. “He told me several times that he prefers to sit among his trees … and that reduces his headache.”

Ibrahim didn’t pay much attention to his brother’s technique until one day when he himself had a headache, but was all out of ibuprofen. On his way the pharmacy, Ibrahim passed a park and remembered what his brother had told him. “I took a little detour and I went to the park instead,” he said. “After about fifteen minutes or so in the park, my headache started to get better.”

After sharing his idea with some colleagues, Ibrahim decided to test the effect of green light on rats. The researchers placed one group of rats into a container bathed in green LED lights and equipped another group of rats with contact lenses that only allowed green light to pass through. A third group wore lenses that blocked green light.

The study demonstrated that rats with neuropathic pain benefited from the green LEDs by showing more tolerance to heat and touch. The researchers published a paper detailing the study last week in the aptly named journal Pain.

“We are currently running a small-scale clinical trial for fibromyalgia people as a proof of concept,” Ibrahim said. “The preliminary data is encouraging. However, this is still preliminary data.”

Although the researchers are confident in the benefit of green light, they’re not sure exactly why the light seems to help.

Siegfried Schmidt, a professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida who was not involved in the study, said the results seem promising: “The exciting part is this could be a non-medicinal, simple procedure that people could do easily.

“Light has been used for a long time in treatment,” he added. “There’s various different lights — from blue to red to infrared light — and they all have different purposes. What’s new here is that there are some improvement in pain with green light.”

However, Schmidt cautioned that the treatment isn’t a cure all for fibromyalgia, a complicated condition with many stages that haven’t been clearly defined, let alone completely understood. He also advised that the UA researchers conduct more safety studies before the treatment is tested at a larger scale.