Can Red Light Stop Migraines? The Magnificent Seven Say Yes!
Posted by apgaylard on May 17, 2008
A recent discussion of claims that shoving a standard red LED up your nose can manage the effects of Hay Fever sent me to my standard text on light therapies: Jacob Liberman‘s excruciatingly bad “Light – Medicine of the Future” (Bear and Company, 1991).
Now, this was not able to shed any light on that deeply implausible idea; but I did come across some more assertions about red light and migraines. As an occasional sufferer this is of some interest, however, the comments are a stunning example of the shockingly low standards of discourse that pervade the strange world of light therapy.
“…red light was recently shown to be very effective in the treatment of migraine headaches. In a recent study by Dr. John Anderson, seven migraine sufferers were monitored for up to two years to evaluate the effects of blinking red lights on the severity of their migraines.18 Using a pair of goggles that alternately blinked red light at different speeds before their eyes, 72% of these patients reported that their severe migraines stopped within one hour of beginning the treatment. Of the remaining 28% (whose migraines did not stop), 93% reported that they felt better.” (p.47 – emphasis is mine)
Now, I don’t have access to the reference provided. This was published in the Brain/Mind Bulletin; it’s not a peer-reviewed journal – far from it. In this report there is no mention of using a control group or sham therapy. There are many other criticisms that could be made; but one thing really stands out: n=7.
That’s right; this was a study of seven people who were asked to self-report in the full knowledge that they were receiving an allegedly helpful therapy. Of this magnificent seven 72% reported that, “their severe migraines stopped within one hour of beginning the treatment”; that’s 5.04 of them. Of the remaining 28%, (1.96 participants), 93% of them (1.8228 participants) “felt better”.
Now reporting percentages from such a small sample is not helpful. What is really being claimed here is that five people reported their migraines stopping within an hour of starting ‘treatment’ and two did not. This is not impressive, to say the least: R. Barker Bausell recommends at least fifty participants per group.
Returning to the basic arithmetic, the top-level figures of 72% and 28% are just rounded incorrectly; If you are going to present meaningless data in this way, this should be 71% and 29% respectively. It’s when the second group of two are split between those who felt better and those, presumably, who did not that the arithmetic gets bizarre. How can you get 93% of two people?
Now, if anyone has a copy of the original report, I’d love to be able to see whether the report contains these simple arithmetic errors or whether the fault lies with Liberman. Either way it’s an indictment of the scholastic standards of the book and should be an embarrassment to those who endorsed it.
That anyone could say, “Anderson’s results are quite dramatic” based on a study of just seven people, albeit over up to two years, beggars belief.
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