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Medicine

Human Brain Is Sensitive To Light In Ears 130

Posted by timothy
from the also-to-the-name-of-the-devil dept.
vuo writes "Finnish researchers have shown that the human brain contains photoreceptors that react to intracranial illumination. Light is provided through the ear canal with bright-light headsets by Valkee. These devices, much like earphones or should we say 'earlumes,' are registered medical devices. Retinal illumination or bright-light therapy has been previously assumed to be the only way light indirectly affects brains. Light therapy helps with mood swings, seasonal affective disorder, jetlag and other circadian rhythm disruptions."
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Human Brain Is Sensitive To Light In Ears

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  • When they shined a light in my ear :-)
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      When they shined a light in my ear :-)

      When I turn the volume up, there is no noise coming out of my mouth.

  • by kamelkev (114875) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @05:25PM (#37062476)

    The source article is posted on "PR Newswire".

    This is a self published document by the company that creates and promotes the Valkee product.

    I am in no position to comment on the legitimacy of the product or the efficacy of it's claims, and neither is anyone else here given the complete uselessness of the article presented.

    At least link to the "scientific" article that they have on their website, which is more appropriate for this audience:
    http://www.valkee.com/uk/Valkee_Poster_Presentation-Human_Brain_Photosensitiveness_May2011.pdf

    I cannot tell if the above whitepaper is peer reviewed or what.

    • by Nick Ives (317)

      Of course it's not peer reviewed: it's not being published in a reputable journal.

      This is pure snake oil. We don't have photoreceptors in our ears.

      • by Nick Ives (317) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @05:42PM (#37062700)

        Oh god, reading that press release it just gets better.

        They reckon that because a photosensitive protein is found in the human brain, shining light in through the ears must help in seasonal affective disorder. To demonstrate this they cut up some cadavers and showed that this protein was found in their brain.

        I'm quite certain you can't see the brain by looking in through the ear canal.

        • I'm quite certain you can't see the brain by looking in through the ear canal.

          Are you? If you press your palm against a strong flashlight, I bet you can see some illumination on the skin in the back of your hand as human tissue isn't that effective in blocking the light... If shining light to your brain really has some positive effect, it seems really plausible that powerful light deep in your ear might work!

          That said, I've seen these products before (I live in Finland) and remember thinking "Yeah. Right. Seems as scientific as ab tronic".

          • by Nick Ives (317) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @05:59PM (#37062892)

            Well, in between the ear canal and the brain there's the inner ear which is full of bones and fluid.

            Of course, that's leaving aside what those photosensitive proteins do in the brain. Maybe they're some leftover defence mechanism in case the brain gets exposed to light?

            Even assuming that this device does have an effect on the brain, photosensitive proteins in the brain are clearly a surrogate endpoint with respect to seasonal affective disorder.

            • by rubycodez (864176)
              The brain is above, I'd suggest looking at some good 3D MRI imaging. what a load of BS this is.
            • by Rei (128717)

              Yes, this article is clearly bunk. But still, it's quite possible that light has more of an impact on the human body than has been traditionally accepted. Human skin might even be mildly photosynthetic -- not kidding. Fungi have been found at Chernobyl using ionizing radiation as an energy source -- and it appears that it's melanin that they've been using to capture the energy. Ionization of melanin can enhance NADH/NAD+ [plosone.org] conversion, which is the last step before ATP production. UV was shown to be effec

              • This is a little delayed, but I just looked at that paper and don't think their conclusion is very strong. First of all, your extrapolation that enhancing NADH/NAD+ conversion (they measured this in vitro, without cells involved, by the way) means more usable energy for a cell doesn't really make sense. The only way it would is if this was somehow happening only in the Intermembrane space of the mitochondria. The whole point of that step is to put alot of H+ in the intermembrane space so the concentration g

          • by mikael (484)

            Used to do that as a kid - had one of those large square batteries and a spare light-bulb from a lego set (one of those for 4x2 bricks. Could see the outline of my bones in my hand). Freaky.

            Just about every cell is sensitive to infra-red heat - helps them to align properly during the healing process. Also indirectly sensitive to ultra-violet light due to the damage caused.

          • by sjames (1099)

            Light can penetrate surprisingly far into our soft tissue, but bone is opaque. There is no straight path through soft tissue from the ear canal to the brain, not even in politicians.

        • No, bu your cheeks glow when you shine a flashlight in your mouth... Not saying this at all credible, and if it were why the ear would be better than the nostrils.
          • Its not credible at all when their own website [valkee.com] indicates that when you use it doesnt matter. When you use sunlamps absolutely matters, and if this device actually worked using it at night would give you insomnia.

          • by jamiesan (715069)
            Because saying "you can smell light" doesn't sound (no pun intended) as cool as "you can hear light" This article would smell very brown I think.
    • by godrik (1287354)

      It is actually not an article but a poster presentation that occured in this conference: http://www.ismrm.org/11/ [ismrm.org]

      I am not sure about that particular conference but poster presentation are usually not peer reviewed. In general poster presentation are given as a teaser for a futur conference article (which are usually peer reviewed).

      Disclaimer: I am a computer scientist so it might be different in the medical field

    • by tloh (451585)

      Maybe you're being a bit unfair. The messanger maybe unsavory but at least part of the source does appear to be reputable.

      ......scientists from the University of Oulu will present new findings on human brain's photosensitivity at the Scandinavian Physiology Society Annual Meeting 2011, August 12-14.

      I think it would be prudent to hold off on judgment until the paper is actually presented. In any case, photo sensitivity of brain tissue is not unheard of. [wikipedia.org]

      On a less serious note, Star Trek did it first [photobucket.com].

      • by nschubach (922175)

        Yeah, my first thought was not light, but the heat of the light being beamed into your ear. I know you can feel temperature in your ear. (try dumping some nice room temperature peroxide in there... it's cold!)

        • They specifically mention photoreceptors, and if heat were the active agent they would be using infrared.

    • by Kelbear (870538)

      Oh goddammit, I just know that we're going to see a break out of alternative medicine quacks who will start treating people by pushing fancy flashlights into their ears.

    • by vuo (156163)
      Just to clarify as the original poster, my only connection to Valkee is living in the same country. The idea is just so Frankenstein I had to post it. Also, it was mentioned in a nationally circulated tabloid. Their poster [valkee.com] did show by fMRI that something is happening. The bone in the ear canal is very thin, and easily lets light through. The clinical trials are not yet ready, but that hasn't stopped them selling the device. That's good, I would say - the perennial complaint about Finnish research is that it
    • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @07:46PM (#37063844)

      I am in no position to comment on the legitimacy of the product or the efficacy of it's claims, and neither is anyone else here given the complete uselessness of the article presented.

      Ill take a shot at it, having used sun-lamps before. Lets take a look at Valkee's FAQ [valkee.com]:

      Portable and always with you
      You can use Valkee wherever works best for you. Due to its small size, you can use it in the morning, during your commute or at work. It travels with you like a cell phone and mp3-player.

      BS alarm is going crazy, because if you were to start using a sunlamp at 7pm every night you could throw your sleep patterns into disarray. Light therapy usually happens in the morning, because it affects circadian rhythm and part of the point is to make your brain think the sun is rising even in dark winter months (if youre deaing with SAD). Additionally, all the sources ive seen (wikipedia, sun lamp vendors) caution that you should not overuse them because they are mood-altering and can have negative side effects.

      Saying that you can use the devices whenever you want for however long you want is a pretty clear indicator that they do nothing whatsoever (protip-- most devices that perform a medical function, other than Vitamin C, do not have a "when you want however much you want" dosing policy).

      What time of the day is it best to use Valkee?
      70% of users have stated that positive effects are best realized during the morning and 30% have stated that they achieve the best results in the evening. Start using Valkee in the morning preferably 30-60 minutes after waking up. If you do not realize positive results after 3-5 days, use Valkee 1-2 hours prior to going to bed in the evening.

      Same issue as above. Also, not having a clear stance on that (and relying on "users" rather than "clinical data") indicates that they really have no clue what this does or why it should work or anything else, other than that you should give them money for a gadget.

      • by epine (68316)

        ... indicates that they really have no clue what this does or why it should work or anything else, other than that you should give them money for a gadget.

        No, it indicates that they aren't doing a good job of making substantive arguments to an audience with no clue.

        The circadian phase response curve [wikipedia.org] is increasingly well understood. I personally have a circadian rhythm disorder. I'm intimately familiar with my own PRC.

        Research I don't have at hand shows that among the elderly, treatment with blue light in

        • Nowhere does their marketing material or FAQ talk about circadian rhythm. They are marketing this is a set-it-and-forget-it happy-mood-maker. Thats not how sunlamps work at all, to achieve a specific result you need to use it at a specific time, and it doesnt just "work" with no side effects. When they market it like that, it tells me that it doesnt do a darn thing.

          Google a sunlamp vendor, and see what they say about side effects and exercising caution. Youll note that they do NOT advise you to "just pi

  • by FrankSchwab (675585) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @05:26PM (#37062482) Journal

    Oh glorious, glorious slashvertisements.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    OK, someone please tell me why I would need to spend nearly $300 USD to shine 2 white LEDs in my ear? Awaiting a schematic and a parts list of what is needed to build this. Oh 3 AA's wired to pair of in-ear headphones with the coil and diaphragm replaced by an LED on each side.

    Now someone tell me that this really works, that shining light i my ear is going to change my mood and outlook on life. Why on earth would the inside of our ears ever develop light sensitivity? I am smelling snake oil burning on the w

    • by jd (1658)

      The idea that there may be neurons somewhere within the brain that are photosensitive is plausible enough. However, light shining in the ear won't ever reach them.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Now someone tell me that this really works, that shining light i my ear is going to change my mood and outlook on life."

      No, you're a borderline moody bastard, you'd need a hole in the head to shine a couple of thousand watts into your tiny brain.

    • by xquercus (801916)

      OK, someone please tell me why I would need to spend nearly $300 USD to shine 2 white LEDs in my ear? Awaiting a schematic and a parts list of what is needed to build this. Oh 3 AA's wired to pair of in-ear headphones with the coil and diaphragm replaced by an LED on each side.

      Oh, you left out the super secret part that makes the whole thing work! The current limiting resistor!

      • OK, someone please tell me why I would need to spend nearly $300 USD to shine 2 white LEDs in my ear? Awaiting a schematic and a parts list of what is needed to build this. Oh 3 AA's wired to pair of in-ear headphones with the coil and diaphragm replaced by an LED on each side.

        Oh, you left out the super secret part that makes the whole thing work! The current limiting resistor!

        Yeah a SED (smoke emitting diode) is not what you want here.

  • An 1998 article in Science claimed there were photoreceptors there and helped alleviate jet lag. I dont know if scientists have followed this up. But its become urban legend now.
    • by samkass (174571)

      The paper behind the 1998 article didn't even claim photoreceptors. They just wanted to test whether light applied to the bloodstream through the skin affected the body's rhythm, and the knees have a lot of blood vessels.

  • Curious what this means for people who can't see...?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11, 2011 @05:36PM (#37062616)

    is it sensitive to a reverse cranial insertion therapy?

  • ... then headphones are making us all crazy! Hmm, actually...

  • So a bright light is expected to travel down the ear canal - cross the several membranes between the ear and the brain and have a measurable effect on your brain (even assuming that the photoreceptors ARE there). I'm buying it just as much as the Browser IQ article from earlier.
    I want to see some peer review first
    • They claim success in 9 of 10 clinical trials. I also would like to see those trials, but that's what conferences and papers are for. Why not a simpler experiment first - shine some light in some ears and see if it gets perceived. Also - photosensitive proteins, not photoreceptors - I see no claims that OPN3 gets assembled into anything resembling a functional photoreceptor, even if their "therapy" assumes it. A good analogy might be green fluorescent protein (GFP). Upon expression in the CNS, it reacts wit
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      Not just membrane, bone. have a look at some good 3D imaging. this is utter bullshit
  • Think of the awkward clinical trials...
  • FTS:

    These devices, much like earphones or should we say 'earlumes,' are registered medical devices.

    WTF? Where, in Singapore?

    Oh, I see, it has CE certification as a 'medical device' for sale in Europe. Well, nice to see the US isn't the only country lowering the bar [magna-health.com] for snake oil salesmen everywhere...(yes, those magnetic bracelet-thingies are registered under MHRA as 'medical devices')

    frig.

    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Thursday August 11, 2011 @07:05PM (#37063486) Homepage Journal

      For the record, that's a rating of medical safety. So having something that does nothing is medically safe. IN the US, probably in the EU as well.

      • by CCarrot (1562079)

        For the record, that's a rating of medical safety. So having something that does nothing is medically safe. IN the US, probably in the EU as well.

        Great! So I can get my silverware certified and brag that I'm using 'certified medical devices' to eat my dinner? Maybe they'll make me healthier...or maybe I can convince others that they are, generating a market for my new medi-ware. Cool!

        If the minimum bar for rating is that the device doesn't actually harm the person using it, then that's what the rating should be called, i.e., 'certified as medically safe', not 'certified as a medical device'. The latter implies that the device actually does someth

  • by thbb (200684) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @06:00PM (#37062914) Homepage

    Of course:

    Q: how do you make a light shine in a blonde's eyes?
    A: you point a flash light at her ear.

  • So what's to stop me from sticking a couple of AAA-size maglites in my ears for a while and calling it good?
  • ... when its host has a hole in its head that needs patching up.

  • You mean along the same line as garbage like Light Relief [lightrelief.com]?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, like understanding how light schedules affect our internal circadian rhythm e.g.

      http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pcbi.1000418

  • by Dunbal (464142) *
    Surely they mean heat. That I will believe. Slashdot is sliding into the abyss a little further every day. Well it's not just slashdot - ever since they brought internet access to the trailer parks, there's been a change. And the law of averages and the law of large numbers means that the future does not look bright for us nerds.
  • by frankgod (218789)
    Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real problem for a lot of people. However, it skews heavily towards women so it's not surprising to see that it's unknown on /. Check the Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] for a good rundown.

    After seeing this I was really excited and ready to order. But that's because I have the worst possible form of SAD. Even in the SF bay area I am miserable for a couple months or so of the rainy season. I'd pay way more than $300 to avoid the energy drain.

    As a sufferer I can tell you that it's not

  • by aquabat (724032) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @06:51PM (#37063362) Journal
    No, we should not say "earlumes". Please, no.
    • by vuo (156163)
      For the record, I coined that word on the fly, since "korvavalo" would be mispronounced anyway. Phone = sound, lume = light. Didn't check that with my Greek colleague, though - any volunteers? "Valkee" is also nice, it's not just Finnish, but Oulu dialect: "bright".
  • The brain needs the light, keep your hair shorter to prevent shadows!

    • by Anomalyst (742352)
      Happens automatically, when you think hard, the thermal output thru your skull kills the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss, q.e.d. the bald spot on the top of my head and the hair in the shower drain.
  • Physicians and biologists have known for a long tine that the pineal gland (epiphysis), which is a remnant of the "third eye" still present in some reptiles, contains active photoreceptors and regulates hormonal circadian rhythms by detecting light that is filtered through the back of the eye.
  • Using the reciprocity principle I am now convinced I can hear with my eyes.
    • I just heard what you said there.

      And the optic-hearing apparently works long distance as well. What a glorious day for science this is.

    • It would actually be quite interesting(if, as with so many interesting things, rather unethical) to see how readily adapted the visual systems of the brain would be to functioning for "hearing"...

      The eyes cannot see sound; but there are a variety of ways of systematically visualizing sound. If one were to take a deaf individual, and fill their visual field with a visualization of the sounds around them at all times, would they come to experience "auditory" phenomena?
  • This reminds me of the ganglion photoreceptors [wikipedia.org] in the eyes (not rods or cones) they have a lower wavelength absorption peak of ~480nm (blueish) and they are very few compared to the other receptors. They contribute to vision slightly, but their primary role is suspected to be other things like helping to regulate circadian rhythms (i.e. body clock).

    There was an interesting BBC Horizon programme recently that touched on this subject, "Do You See What I See? [bbc.co.uk]", which was primarily exploring colour perception i

    • This is interesting because I have read some years ago that the US Air Force has experimented with using blue LEDs mounted on the head but somewhat behind the eyes, and doing so resulted in pilots being able to fly for significantly longer times. It was presumed to tell their circadian rhythm, "no, it's not night time, yet."

  • I've noticed for years now that if I shine the light of an optical mouse in my ear, even with my eyes closed, even with someone else doing it with my eyes closed, I hear a high-frequency ring only at the times the light is shining in my ears.

    But I don't know if this is because of the effect described in TFA or something to do with the engineering of optical mice.

    • Holy shit that's crazy. I totally thought you were an idiot, and then I tried it, and yep, a high-pitched tone.

      Of course, it also works when I press the back of the mouse against my ear, with the light shining in the other direction, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say they have nothing to do with each other and partially return to my initial assumption. It will definitely be useful as another way to find people who are bad a critical thinking though.

      • It will definitely be useful as another way to find people who are bad a critical thinking though.

        Mine doesn't do it unless the light is shining directly into my ear. It also works with the mouse quote distant from my head; it works as far as I am able to physically stretch my arm away and still aim the light at my ear. I have an old ambidextrous optical Logitech with the aqua bubble (or whatever you'd call it) on top.

        I can also hear a high-pitch ringing when the charging LED on my laptop and razor are on (they blink on and off, so it's easy to tell that the noise is coming from the LED -- high pitch no

        • Most people, before they break the habit, are very good at lying to themselves to prevent ever having to believe they're wrong.. See, now you've called in the experts, and if nobody responds, you can go right on believing that it's the light itself that's making the noise, or whatever other goofy thing you're thinking that essentially boils down to "I can hear light" without actually saying it because you know that's ridiculous. Before you even try to figure out the answer, take a step back and look at the

    • by ThorGod (456163)

      Have you tried making the sound back to it? Maybe you can get the mouse to move on the screen if you 'sing the mouse tune' right. /silly

  • when I could see music flowing out of the speakers.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:25PM (#37064992) Journal
    You aren't going to get useful amounts of light to the brain through the ears! Worse, what light you do get will be all dim and orange/reddish, and throw your circadian rhythms for a loop because you think it is sunset all the time. Worthless.

    Here, just for my Slashdot friends, is the secret to really showing 'Seasonal Affective Disorder' who is boss:

    Simply passing electrons through the cerebrospinal and intracellular fluids of the brain at a speed greater than that of light within those media will bathe the brain in a lovely, broad-spectrum, delicate blue glow [wikimedia.org]. This will stimulate photo-receptors that aural lighting cannot hope to reach.

    Unfortunately, due to high costs and a coverup by the alarm-clock/industrial complex, you may have to sneak into a nearby university or DOE laboratory in order to use a linear accelerator of sufficient power. While Cherenkov radiation can also restore vigor to the scalp and reverse balding, you need energy sufficient to pass through the skull in order to see circadian benefits.
    • by vuo (156163)
      The brain isn't the retina - it can't distinguish colors with a single protein. The only concern is the convolution integral of the energy spectrum of the light filtering through the bone in the ear canal and the response spectrum of the photosensitive pigment in the brain cells. If the wavelength absorption/detection maximum is different from the spectrum of the delivered light, only the tails of the wavelength distribution will actually affect the brain cells.

      I have no doubt that some light will reach t

    • I can't believe that I was modded "interesting" for a joke post where I suggested sticking your head in a linear accelerator...
  • This scam appeared in Finland over a year ago. :) Metku.net even made a DIY version [metku.net] of it.
  • People have been claiming this for quite a while. In fact, many Stop Smoking clinics shine lasers in people's ears which triggers something which removes the urge to smoke. Or so I hear, I have no clue whether or not this technique actually works.
  • I remember reading not too long ago about using infrared light to stimulate the hair cells or nerves in the ear.. it was thought that using an infrared laser could work better than the current electrode method of a Cochlear Implant.

  • I listen to sounds of nature on my headphones at work. I use a program called Ambiance (Adobe Air app) that lets me mix various field recordings, which keeps me more alert than coffee, and drowns out the blabbering of my cubicle neighbors. It also helps my mood, as it usually sounds like a Spring afternoon.

    This has me thinking -- can I add some sort of lights source into my headphones? They're full ear-covering headphones, so I could produce a lot of light in them without affecting those around me, or much

  • It has already been shown that areas other than the eyeballs respond to visible light below the obvious intensity of feeling heat (that is, not talking about bright sunlight). This may be a new specific point, but the general idea is not surprising. As for SAD and light therapy, I believe this is one of the things that - like allergies and food sensitivities - is very idiosyncratic and hard to standardize. But then, so is taste.

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