Bates was right! Research Confirms Sunning is beneficial!

By Edward C. Kondrot, MD, MD(H), CCH, DHt

Dr William Bates was a controversial turn of the century Ophthalmologist who believed that all eye disease was caused by stress and disease could be cured by relaxing the eyes. He taught 3 techniques: Palming, Sunning and Swinging.

Palming is perhaps the most familiar of his teachings. This is where the palms are placed over closed eyelids and while taking slow deep breaths while visualizing the black. When black is visualized this helped the eyes to totally relax.

The second technique is the swing. This to done by standing upright and making large turns to the left and right while visualizing the motions that the eyes perceive in the environment


Using a hand glass for sunning from Perfect Sight Without Glasses
Nothing until now was more controversial than his technique called sunning. Bates believed that the eyes benefited by sunlight and one could look directly at the sun (with closed eyelids) or at the brightest light without injury or discomfort.
Bates cautioned that , just like one should not run a marathon with out training. one should not look directly at the sun with out training. Bates suggested exposing the white part or sclera to direct sunlight for a few seconds and he taught exposing the direct sun on closed eyelids .
In his book, Perfect Sight Without Glasses, Bates described a treatment using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on the closed lid of an eye. He advised patients to expose the closed eyes to direct sunlight for at least 3 minutes a day and on dark days Bates advised using an infrared light source for “sunning” indoors. Sunning was advised to help refractive problems like nearsightedness and farsightedness but also for glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration.

I was taught during my training as an Ophthalmologist that looking at the sun was bad and it could burn the retina leading to blindness. We even studying several cases of retinal damage after sun gazing, including a case of a man who took several dosages of LSD and then proceeded to sun gaze for several hours.

Recently there have been several articles published that Bates was right and sunlight can be beneficial to our eye health!

Environmental Damage to the Retina and Preconditioning: Contrasting Effects of LIght and Hyperoxic Stress. Zhu y, Valter, K, Stone J; Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci (2010) 51:4821-4830)

This experiment mice one group of mice were raised in a normal light environment. 12 hours of light (3 Lux) and 12 hours of darkness. Mice in the experimental group were exposed to bright light (300 lux) light about 100 times brighter than normal room lighting. The mice were all exposed to retinal damaging light (1000 lux for 2 weeks) or plunged into air raised levels of oxygen. High levels of oxygen are toxic to the retina. Mice that were preconditioned to bright light did not have any retinal damage!

There are 3 possible mechanisms that preconditioning with light protects the eye. It stimulates healthy growth key elements in the retina and increases antioxidant functioning.

This preconditioning might have a beneficial effect in the treatment and prevention of progressive damage in macular degeneration and other eye diseases.

Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Retinal Injury and Retinal Degenerative Diseases. Eells JT, et. al. Proceedings of Light-Activated Tissue Regeneration and Therapy Conference. eds. R. W. Waynant and D. B. Tata pp 39-51, Springer, New York, 2008

Daily application of phototherapy (760 nm) in rodent subjects has shown to prevent retinal injury following high intensity laser burns, retinal toxicity due to methyl alcohol, and in cases of retinitis pigmentosa.

Low energy levels of red and/ or infrared light activates cytochrome oxidase a photosenstive molecule in the mitochondria and this leads to an increase in retinal cellular activity, increase in antioxidant properties and general health and vitality.

The authors feel that the result of this study should stimulate the FDA to approve these modalities for the treatment of macular degeneration and other eye diseases.

Low Level Laser Therapy Improves Vision in Patients with Age- Related Macular Degeneration. Ivandic BT, et. al. Photomed Laser Surg 2008 Jun; 26(3): 241-5.

193 patients with all forms of macular degeneration were involved in this study. An infrared laser (780 nm) was used to irradiate a 3 mm spot on the conjunctiva near the macula of the eye. Each eye received a a total of four 40 second lights twice a week over 2 weeks.

Visual acuity improved in more than 95% of the patients and bleeding was reduced in 86 eyes with wet macular degeneration. In addition metamorphopsia, impairment of color vision and scotomas decreased.

Early Diagnosis of Ocular Hypertension Using a Low Intensity Lasr Irradiation Test. Ivandic, BT, Hoque, NN, Ivandic, T P Photomed Laser Surg 2009 Jun; 27(4): 571-575

Infrared light shined on the sclera significantly reduced the intra ocular pressure in the majority of patients. A 30 second treatment reduced IOP by 50% in some patients, others by less and some had no pressure lowering effects. Patients with existing glaucoma all had a greater pressure lowering reponse compared to thsoe who did not have glaucoma.

According to the authors this test might help to distinguish which normal tension patients and patients with slightly elevated pressures might be at risk to develop glaucoma.

Low intensity laser irradiation may be an important tool to treat ocular hypertension and glaucoma.

Light therapy in the form of sunning that was advocated by Dr William Bates a hundred years ago just might be a key to the prevention and treatment of macular degeneration.

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