THRF Group Parkinson’s funded trial finds Infrared Light Therapy reduces symptoms and improves gut microbiome!
Losing the ability to have a good night’s sleep was exhausting for Ron Till, 69, of Mannum. He would go to bed early, only to be woken by his body jerking violently, one of his many Parkinson’s symptoms.
But things changed for the better when he signed up for a novel clinical trial, funded by THRF Group Parkinson’s, assessing the effectiveness of infrared light therapy for people living with Parkinson’s.
Within weeks of commencing the trial, which involved applying infrared light therapy to his head and abdomen three times a week for 12 weeks, he stopped jerking awake.
“I got back my two blocks of four-hour sleep, which is like gold to me,” he said.
Ron was so pleased with his improvement that once the study ended, he purchased a light helmet device used in the trial and continues to use it for 20 minutes every second day.
“Sometimes I forget to bring it when I go to visit my brother in Robe, and my sleep goes downhill fast.”
The results of the trial, which involved 19 participants in SA and NSW, showed that Ron was not an isolated case, with most participants demonstrating improvements in Parkinson’s symptoms and signs including gait, balance, cognition and fine motor skills after receiving infrared light therapy.
In addition, the trial found changes in the participants’ gut microbiome which meant that this was the first known trial worldwide to demonstrate changes in the human gut microbiome following infrared light therapy.
Dr Brian Bicknell, microbiologist and lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, came up with the theory after brainstorming about why a monkey showed improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms after receiving infrared light therapy only to its abdomen.
“I suggested it was probably the microbiome,” Dr Bicknell said.
“The gut microbiome seems to be incredibly important to our own overall health.”
There has long been an assumed link between Parkinson’s disease, the gastrointestinal tract and the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome in Parkinson’s patients is different compared to those of the general population.
Constipation affects 90% of Parkinson’s sufferers, often preceding the initial diagnosis by many years. And there is an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in those who already have IBS or IBD.
Australasian Research Institute’s Dr Ann Liebert and her colleagues had also found, through earlier research, that the gut microbiome of mice could be altered through administration of infrared light therapy.
To further these insights in humans, the 19 volunteer participants gave a faecal sample to researchers before the trial began, and were asked not to alter their dietary habits or day-to-day activities during the study’s duration.”
They were then given infrared light therapy via laser devices to their abdomen at a wavelength of 904-nanometres, and to their head at a wavelength of 810-nanometres and/or their neck at a wavelength of 904-nanometres, three times a week for 12 weeks.
At the end of the 12 weeks, a further faecal sample was collected from each participant, and the microbiome from each of these faecal samples were subsequently analysed via DNA extraction and testing.
The majority of participants showed a significant increase (defined as at least a log2-fold change) in 10 different genera of microorganisms including Bacteroides, Alistipes and Prevotella and a significant decrease in 17 different genera including Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus and various Clostridium and Enterococcaceae genera.
Five of the bacteria that showed a decrease post light therapy – Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, Lactobacillus, Christensenella and Enterococcaceae – have been shown in multiple studies to be increased in the microbiome of Parkinson’s sufferers.
Professor of Cardiology at Macquarie University, Hosen Kiat, said it was quite possible the laser provided a synergistic effect.
“It is a no-brainer if it is useful because it is relatively cheap, it is non-invasive and it has zero side effects.”
It is impossible at this stage to know whether the improvements in the trial participants’ Parkinson’s symptoms were due to the effect of infrared light therapy to the brain, or due to changes in the gut microbiome, or partially due to a placebo effect, or, most likely, a combination of the above.
What is unquestioned however is that exposure to light therapy did alter the gut microbiome, seemingly for the better, and that further research in this area is urgently needed.
What is also apparent is the gratitude of the trial participants for being introduced to light therapy.
With his Parkinson’s symptoms in check, Ron plans to do more travelling.
“I have family up on the Gold Coast, and I think to myself, ‘Can I drive that far?’ Before it was impossible but now I think, ‘Perhaps I can’.”
*This is an edited version of an article which appeared in The Australian newspaper on Saturday 29 May. The outcomes of this trial have been made possible thanks to our valuable supporters.