Red Light Therapy - 101

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As humans, we are made of energy and fueled by light. While nutrition and exercise play a role in our well-being and health, light plays a crucial role in us functioning optimally. New and groundbreaking research is unearthing a new understanding of how our cells function and the evidence points to the power of light.

Through technological advancements in science, it’s discovered that our bodies operate similar to a battery. Wavelengths of light give us power, while our overall health determines our ability to receive and maintain the energy from light. And this is where light therapy comes into the equation.

What is Red Light Therapy

Science has proven that our bodies interact with specific wavelengths that benefit our bodies in various ways. 

Red light therapy devices, such as light therapy masks, shine red and near-infrared light onto the skin, stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) within the mitochondria. By stimulating ATP, damaged cells heal, and new cells are produced faster than normal. But we’ll talk more about that in-depth a little later.

Red light therapy comprises both red light and infrared wavelengths, penetrating through the skin’s layers, right into the cells. Red light wavelengths boost collagen and elastin and improve cell communication. It penetrates superficially and helps aid various skin conditions

Near-infrared wavelengths stimulate healing, increase mitochondrial function, and improve blood flow and tissue oxygenation. Near-infrared wavelengths penetrate deeply into the body. 

Recharging Your Body From Within

At the core of your body’s healing capabilities are the mitochondria. The mitochondria play a vital role in your internal organs and tissue, including the liver, skin, heart, and muscles. It’s in charge of the body’s energy supply via ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

With both working together, they provide energy to our body and maintain the cell cycle and growth. This is why you’ll often hear the mitochondria referred to as the “powerhouse of the cell.”

Here's how the mitochondria is affected by red light:

  1. LED light wavelengths from 600-800nm(red) and between 810-850nm(infrared) penetrate through the skin into the cells via a red light therapy device.
  2. Light enters the cell's mitochondria, absorbed by chromophores which include EZ water and protein cytochrome c oxidase (CCO), resulting in stimulating activity.
  3. Subsequently, three molecules are affected: Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), and Nitric Oxide (NO).

Interestingly, our body weight is made of 70% water, with 99% of our bodies' molecules also made of water, making it a powerful component in red light therapy treatment.

Research by Prof Gerald Pollock of the University of Washington proved that water adjacent to a cell is structured water, also known as EZ water. This specific water forms a separation of charge, functioning in the body as positive and negative poles - similar to a battery.

What Does “Red Light Therapy” Mean?

While we’ve been talking about red light therapy, what does it actually mean? Typically, “red light therapy” refers to natural light treatments which deliver red and near-infrared wavelengths as natural sunlight using LEDs or cold lasers. 

While you may think red light therapy includes all colors of light, it doesn’t. The term doesn’t include blue or white light, and it isn’t equivalent to full-spectrum light. Red light therapy doesn’t rely on heat, differentiating it from other light-based treatments such as infrared saunas and heat therapy. 

Red light therapy is also known as RLT, photobiomodulation (PBM), phototherapy, LED therapy, LED light therapy, infrared therapy, low-level laser therapy, or low-level light therapy (LLLT). 

Red Light Therapy: The Multilevel Treatment

As stated before, red light therapy works to heal the entire body and functions on multiple levels.

Molecular
  • Adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
  • Retrograde mitochondrial signaling
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • Water, opsins, chromophores, cytochrome c oxidase
Calcium
  • Melatonin
  • Gene transcription factors
  • Heat-shock proteins
  • Akt/mTOR/CyclinD1 pathway
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
Cellular
  • Inflammation, Cytoprotection, Proliferation
  • Protein synthesis
  • Stem cell production and migration
  • Immune cell viability
  • Retrograde mitochondrial signaling
  • Transforming growth factor
  • Pro-and anti-inflammatory cytokines
  • Vascular endothelial
  • Mitochondrial membrane potential
Tissue
  • Muscles: Increase endurance, tone density
  • Brain: Improves cognition and immune
  • Nerves: Repair and pain relief
  • Healing bones, tendons, and wounds
  • Increases hair growth
  • Improvement of the collagen network, anti-aging, skin disorders
  • Fat re-absorption improved by enhanced micro-circulation
  • Improved immunity and lymphatic system

Systemic Effects: Positive Affects on Bodily Systems

Red light therapy affects the body in multiple ways, including bodily systems:

Fascia

Fascia is the thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds virtually every organ, muscle, nerve fiber, blood vessel, and bone in place. While it performs as an internal structure for your body, the fascia also contains nerves, making it almost as sensitive as skin.

The fascia may look like a layer of tissue; however, it’s made up of interwoven layers of collagen and elastin fibers. The fascia is overlooked, yet over recent years, it has been the key to understanding how changes in one area of our body affect others. Red light therapy works to improve communication within the fascia network.

Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis connects the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Recent research discovered the importance of gut microbiota concerning these interactions.

Red light therapy can positively influence mood and neuropsychological issues by the following:

  • Reducing gut spasms and bowel inflammation.
  • Increasing neurotransmitters, activating the brain’s immune system, thus increasing blood flow and eliminating toxins.
  • Reduce blood pressure and increase circulation to eliminate brain fog and anxiety.
  • Changes the vagus nerve, which connects the gut and brain. It plays a role in stress and social communication.
  • Changes of the micro-biome.

Immune System

Red and near-infrared light penetrate through the skin into the cells, which results in low-dose metabolic stress that strengthens the cells’ anti-inflammatory and natural defense systems. In turn, the body becomes resilient to infections.

Safe and low exposure to red light therapy improves the body’s response to external viruses and bacteria. Red light therapy can influence the immune response in the following ways:

  • Enhances proliferation, maturation, and motility of fibroblasts.
  • Activates macrophages to behave as phagocytes.
  • Increases production of fibroblast growth.
  • Proliferation and activation of lymphocytes.
  • Release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and mast cell degranulation.
  • Activation of mast cells results in reduced inflammation.

Circulatory System

Red light therapy is scientifically proven to increase the micro-circulation of blood and support the circulatory system as a whole by stimulating the development of new capillaries which carry oxygen throughout the body.

Proper oxygen supply and flow are essential for the proliferation of cells, protein synthesis, tissue restoration, inflammatory response, and angiogenesis. In addition, circulation is also responsible for waste elimination, specifically degenerated cells.

Nervous System

The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord, neurons, and neural support cells, which is your body’s command center. It controls your movements, automatic responses, and other body systems such as digestion and breathing.

Red light therapy affects the nervous system in the following ways:

  • Releases growth factors.
  • Increases the vascular network and collagen.
  • Facilitates neural regeneration.
  • Regenerates the nerve lesions and damaged nerves at a faster rate.
  • Improves the electrophysiological function.
  • Myelination of fibers.

For all forms of nerve damage, red light therapy offers non-pharmaceutical treatment options. 

Stem Cells

Red light therapy shows impressive results regarding stem cell growth, maximizing the potential of stem cell implantation for various medical needs. Therefore, red light therapy may show positive results after surgery to stimulate stem cells which repair tissues and organs.

In studies, red light therapy has proven to stimulate mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow, enhancing their ability to reach the brain. This research shows the possibilities of using red light therapy to heal degenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.

The Origins of Modern Red Light Therapy

It’s clear red light therapy provides multilevel treatment to the body, becoming a popular natural and holistic option for both professionals and consumers, but where did it come from? 

Light therapy technology isn’t new; it’s been around for decades as NASA experimented with red light therapy during the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past 10-20 years, red light therapy reached a breakthrough in LED lighting technology, allowing the production of safe and affordable clinical and at-home devices.

In 2016, Kaiyan Medical became the first leading manufacturer of red light therapy of affordable FDA-approved and MDASAP-approved light therapy devices.

What is Holistic Medicine?

We mentioned red light therapy being a holistic treatment option, but what does that mean. Holistic medicine is a full-body approach to healthcare. By focusing on the body, mind, and soul, the body receives the full support and care it needs to function optimally.

Principles of Holistic Medicine

Holistic medicine is based on the following principles:

  • Optimal health is the combination of emotional, mental, spiritual, social and physical wellness.
  • The focus is to prevent first, and treat second.
  • The disease or illness is not caused by a single area, rather the whole body.

The purpose of treatment is to identify the underlying cause of the disease, rather than treating only the symptoms.

6 Main Benefits from Red Light Therapy

While there are endless benefits the body receives from red light therapy, here are the six main benefits.

Relieves Pain And Discomfort

Photobiomodulation, in other words, red light therapy, has proven effective against carpal tunnel syndrome, mucositis, neck pain, menstrual cramps, temporomandibular joint pain, and neuropathic pain from amputation. It also significantly reduces the pain of hypersensitivity while improving sensorimotor function.

These improvements come after anti-inflammatory cells populate the injured area, providing long-lasting pain relief. In addition, it’s also been shown to provide effective relief by affecting the following:

  • Represses cyclooxygenase and prostaglandins.
  • Activating peripheral opioid receptors.
  • Increasing endorphins serotonin release.
  • Stimulates the metabolism.
  • Changes nerve transmission.
Repairs Skin

Red light therapy has proven to be highly effective in rapidly treating wounds from burns, scars, bedsores, ulcers, surgery incisions, and diabetic neuropathy.

NASA strongly supports this claim as this technology was used in treating wounds. Red and near-infrared light proves effective in all four phases of the wound-healing process:

  • Coagulation
  • Inflammation
  • Migration
  • Remodeling

These processes are regulated by various factors connected via nitric oxide (NO) signaling release, adjusted by light energy. 

An issue the body encounters when trying to heal a wound is low oxygen flow, and red light increases the flow of oxygen, speeding up the natural healing process. By reducing inflammation and increasing oxygenation of the wounded area, blood vessels can form, rapidly repairing the area, lessening pain and scarring. 

By reducing pain, red light therapy eliminates the reliant on pharmaceutical painkillers during the healing process.

Revives Immunity

The human body receives energy on the cellular level, maintaining communication between organs and ensuring disease resistance.

A strong immune system works to protect the body from harmful bacteria and viruses at all times. With red light therapy, the body receives a boost of support as it releases nitric oxide and melatonin, two components involved in DNA repair and antimicrobial.

This process is called hormesis. Red and near-infrared wavelengths penetrate through the skin into the cells, causing mild metabolic stress, which stimulates cells to activate their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant response.

With the support of red light therapy, the body is better prepared to fight infections. Numerous studies have proven red light therapy to have the following effects on the immune system:

  • Improves melatonin production
  • Increases NO levels
  • Improves antioxidant production
  • Improves thyroid function
  • Stimulates T cells pre-operatively
  • Increases flow of neurotransmitters
  • Boosts collagen and elastin production
  • Encourages lymph node activity
  • Enables the transportation of immune cells
  • Stimulates optimal function of cells and organelles
Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation in the body can be acute and topical (short-term, resulting from sprains, infections, and accidents) or chronic and general (long-term, caused by ongoing conditions).

Acute inflammation is a healthy bodily response; however, chronic and general inflammation can negatively impact long-term health.

As of today, the current treatment for inflammation is NSAID or steroid drugs, both having a detrimental effect on the healing process and long-term health. Red light therapy stimulates the body to activate its natural healing mechanism, reducing the health risks of long-term drug use.

Red light therapy decreases the number of inflammatory cells, increases fibroblast proliferation (cells that synthesize collagen and other matrix macromolecules), stimulates angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels), and activates the body’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant response.

The following conditions are connected with chronic and acute inflammation, all proving promising results with red light therapy treatment:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Sinusitis
  • Muscular sprains
  • Fibro-myalgia
  • Neuron inflammatory disorders such as Alzheimer’s
  • Irritable bowel syndrome and colitis
  • Rheumatic conditions
Regains Performance

Red light therapy is extremely popular in competitive sports and performance. It offers natural and non-pharmaceutical treatment, which applies to many areas of the body.

Aside from the overwhelming benefits on overall health, red light therapy encourages muscles growth and repair by stimulating the production of ATP, which aids in faster recovery and better performance.

Red light therapy used before training prepares and strengthens the body while aiding muscle recovery after training.

Here are the scientifically documented effects of red light therapy:

  • Reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
  • Enhanced endurance and performance
  • Increasing sleep quality
  • Improving sexual function and libido (including Testosterone)
  • Aiding weight loss
  • Boosting cognitive function
  • Reversing skin aging
  • Reducing cellulite
Reduces symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depressions, impacting 5% of Americans, specifically during the winter when there’s less natural sunlight. SAD is also known as seasonal depression or winter blues.

Many people treat SAD symptoms via bright white light treatment, mimicking the sun’s light daily. However, researchers recommend natural light treatment, like red light therapy, to help with light deficiency. Over recent years, physicians recommend red light therapy alongside psychotherapy and medication.

Who Can Use Red Light Therapy?

While many people are using red light therapy devices for at-home treatment, red light therapy systems are found in many clinical and professional settings:

Skincare Professionals: Red light therapy is a popular skincare treatment among Hollywood celebrities, including Kourtney Kardashian, Julia Roberts, and Emma Stone. Leading skincare professionals like dermatologists and aestheticians use red light therapy to help promote collagen production, reduce wrinkles, and treat skin conditions.

Health Practitioners: Health practitioners from all specialties are incorporating red light therapy into their practice. Dentists use it to reduce inflammation, physicians for mental health conditions, and oncologists for cancer side effects.

Natural Health Experts: Leading voices in the health and wellness industry such as Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Ben Greenfield, and Dave Asprey strongly support the use of red light therapy. Paleo and Keto health experts like Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Luke Story, and Dr. Anthony Gustin also support red light therapy.

Sports Medicine Pros: The National Sports Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) adopted red light therapy to treat sports injuries. Top trainers and doctors, including Dr. Troy Van Biezen and Dr. Ara Suppiah, use red light therapy to heal their athletes.

Elite Pro Athletes: Professional athletes worldwide, including NFL stars like Patrick Peterson, UFC champion Anthony Pettis, and gold medal gymnast Sanne Weavers use red light therapy to enhance performance and quicken recovery.

Fitness & Training: World-renown fitness trainers, including Lacey Stone and Jorge Cruise, use red light therapy to enhance athletic performance and muscle recovery.

Supportive Cancer Care: The Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC) recommends the treatment of red light therapy for oral mucositis (OM), a common symptom of cancer treatment.

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