Dr. Claudia Aguirre which has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from USC and travels the world lecturing on a broad range of topics from neuroscience to skin care has been researching the power of the skin and its connection with the brain.
The skin is highly innervated and intricately connected to the brain and central nervous system, just as other sensory organs are. Dr. Claudia Aguirre is discovering that the skin has a lot of neuro potential, or neuroplasticity, that has gone unrecognized. For example, just as our eyes have receptors that transduce light photons into signals to the brain that we process as vision, we’re discovering that our skin also has light receptors. Although we don’t yet know how they work, we speculate that they might be signaling the brain to make systemic changes that affect the full nervous system. Similarly, olfactory receptors in the hair follicles, just as we do in the nose.
Another example is touch, for which our skin is the primary sense organ. Skin is also our largest organ, which gives us a clue as to how important touch is. Different receptors in the skin can tell us not only whether what we touch is hot or cold, rough or smooth. Skin can even sense the intention behind the touch. A gentle touch feels much different than an aggressive one. We can tell whether the person giving us a massage is paying attention or whether they’re distracted. Moreover, different kinds of touch elicit different biochemical and hormonal responses, which have systemic results. A hug or kiss stimulates the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, through the bloodstream, while a punch or shove will release adrenaline and cortisol. All of these capabilities are what we say by the hidden brain in the skin.
The skin is connected to the nervous system; it’s connected to the endocrine system. The skin is impacted by our emotional states and, conversely, our skin can impact how we feel about ourselves. Cultural stress and anxiety can trigger or aggravate many skin conditions—from acne to eczema to herpes, psoriasis, and rosacea. Conversely, a disfiguring skin condition can trigger stress, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Chronic, generalized anxiety can create chronic inflammation and exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions, such as the ones mentioned previously. Chronic stress can result in chronic anxiety, hypervigilance, poor sleep, and a whole cascade of effects resulting in a constant breakdown of tissues and organs, including the skin. There’s a whole new field of medicine being developed called psychodermatology, which is the study and treatment of the psychological component of skin conditions. Better understanding of the neuropotential of skin also opens the possibility of whole new avenues of treatment with light therapy for many of our chronic conditions.
In Kaiyan Medical we have understood that neuroscience should absolutely be part of the conversation about skincare and beauty because the brain and the skin are intimately connected. Skincare is important not only for the skin, but also the brain. That's why we keep developing light therapy devices for skin and brain. In Kaiyan we always recommend to listen for all the little signs that your skin tells you that you tend to ignore. You get a rash, and you brush it off: “Maybe it’s just dry out. Maybe I need to switch creams.” But if it occurs repeatedly, you need to look more closely and ask, “What could my skin be trying to tell me?” Are you repressing emotions? Is there a relationship issue you’re avoiding? Is there some other life circumstance that’s “gotten under your skin”? The body has a wisdom we should listen to.
Biohacking is the practice of changing our chemistry and our physiology through science and self-experimentation to energize and enhance the body. It’s a broad definition, but that’s also because the concept is constantly evolving. It includes implementing lifestyle and dietary changes that improve the functioning of your body, as well as wearable technology to help you monitor and regulate physiological data. It can even run to extremes such as using implant technology and genetic engineering.
The possibilities are endless, but they are all rooted in the idea that we can change our bodies and our brains, and that by doing so we can ultimately become smarter, faster, and better as human beings.
Start biohacking your body by using wearables like the FitBit or the Apple Watch to track the way you operate. You could also start experimenting with the power of music in your everyday life and adopting a sustainable healthy diet. But if you’re ready for something new, and something different, consider one of these non-invasive methods from our biohacking guide:
Biohack Tip 1: Red Light Therapy
Have you ever spent a lot of time indoors and begun to feel… off? Our bodies and brains need light to function at their best. Not only does the sun give us an important dose of vitamin D, but it helps us in a number of other physiological and emotional ways. Let’s look a little closer – specifically at the light wavelengths between 600 and 900 nanometers (nm). How does this range of light waves impact us and how can we use it to biohack the body?
Studies have shown that your body responds particularly well to red and near-infrared wavelengths, which range from 600 to 900 nm. This particular range of light waves is absorbed by the skin to a depth of about 8 to 10 millimeters, at which point your mitochondrial chromophores absorb the photons. This activates a number of the nervous system and metabolic processes.
In plainer terms, red light therapy has become an increasingly popular form of biohacking used to treat a number of conditions. It has been proven to relieve pain,reduce inflammation, and restore mood. And because it is a non-invasive and non-chemical treatment, it’s not as intimidating as other forms of biohacking.
Biohacking Tip 2: Functional Music
With over 100 billion neurons that are constantly using electricity to talk to each other, your brain is like Grand Central Station. If everyone is chattering loudly at the same time, it can be tough to concentrate on what you need to get done. That’s where music biohacking comes in. Brain activity can be measured in a wave-like pattern and determines if you feel alert, sleepy, relaxed, or stressed. Things that can affect your brainwaves include the activity you are currently performing, how much restorative rest you’ve had, and what you’ve just eaten or drank.
One of the most reliable ways to change your brainwaves is through a consistent sound wave. Audio entrainment, a form of music biohacking, uses binaural beats and tones to synchronize with your brain waves and induce a meditative, relaxed state. You can access programs developed specifically for your own brain and the activities you want to accomplish at Brain.fm. If you’re not ready to go that far, you can still change your mood and mindset by queuing up your favorite playlist and listening while you work out, cook breakfast, or commute to work.
Biohacking Tip 3: Osteostrong
We talk a lot about cardiac health. After all, heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States. Everyone needs to be aware of cardiovascular diseases and how to protect themselves as best they can. As a culture, we also talk a lot about skin health – slathering on sunscreen as part of our daily routine and supplementing our diets with collagen-boosting foods. Weight loss, inflammation, memory, GI health, and how an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can prematurely age you – these are all at the forefront of our minds. But how often do we think about the health of our bones?
A decrease in bone health creeps up on you and most people are unaware of how bone density changes over time. Roughly up until the age of 30, men and women actually build more bone than they lose, so we are constantly strengthening our bones and working on bone density. But when we hit our mid-30s, things change. And if you’ve passed that benchmark, you may have felt that shift.
After reaching their mid-30s, women lose about 2% of bone density every year, and that continues for a few years following menopause. This leaves women with a high likelihood of experiencing osteoporosis.
So what do you do? Consider trying OsteoStrong, a non-pharmaceutical way of improving bone density, strength, and balance as one of your biohacking techniques.
According to OsteoStrong’s website, research indicates that the stimulus required to activate the growth of healthy bone tissue is 4.2 multiples of body weight. However, this level of force would be exceptionally difficult to achieve on your own. That’s why OsteoStrong utilizes the Spectrum System, which is part of a new category of devices called the Robotic Musculoskeletal Development System (RDMS).
Biohacking Tip 4: Gratitude
How we view life has a huge effect on our moods, how we treat others, and our general levels of fulfillment. When you have an abundance mindset, you’re consistently grateful for everything that comes your way and is always focused on the positive. Have a hard time adopting this type of perspective? Changing your mindset is really about nothing more than practice. You need to consistently refocus your brain to see the positive in every situation until it becomes second nature. These biohacking techniques and tools can help:
A gratitude journal in which you write three to five things you’re grateful for helps you reframe the day to focus on the positive and reflect on all the good things that happen to you.
Take a gratitude walk where you give thanks and send positive energy to every living thing you see. If you walk to work or take a morning jog, you can easily incorporate this into your normal routine.
Write a weekly letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you or who means a lot to you. It could be a family member, a long-lost friend, or even a coworker who always remembers to stock your favorite coffee.
Begin the day with a ritual, such as meditating, and set an intention to be grateful for all you encounter.
Biohacking Tip 5: Supplements
Exercising, eating right, and developing the right mindset are important steps tounlocking an extraordinary life. Biohacking helps you take this to the next level by incorporating supplements that improve focus, increase energy, and help your body benefit from the most bioavailable forms of nutrients available.
We often don’t get all the vitamins and minerals we need to keep us at peak performance. High-quality supplements in the form of pills, shakes, bars, or drinks can fill the nutritional gap and help boost performance, detoxify our systems, and achieve daily energy.
Tony has created a variety of health supplements, drinks, and bars that help you feel your best every day and make biohacking the body easy.
Like any other organ or part of the human body, the brain, too, is susceptible to injuries or declining functions, especially as we grow older. A healthy diet, physical exercise, and improving your blood pressure, blood sugar, or blood cholesterol levels are some of the ways through which you can maintain a healthier, younger brain.
The brain can suffer from numerous disorders that can be divided into:
Traumatic events such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and global brain ischemia.
Aging-related degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia.
Psychiatric and mood disorders, including schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.
Mentally stimulating activities are vital to keeping the brain young. Different brain activities, such as solving puzzles, math problems, or anything that may require at least some cognitive effort, contributes to the maintenance of the brain’s neural plasticity.
Neural plasticity is the ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to adapt to changes in the environment, aging, trauma, or injuries. It’s an important brain process in which neural networks work together to build a more resilient nervous system and maintain its proper functioning.
Improved reaction Time, Memory, and Mood
The first placebo-controlled study to demonstrate some of the benefits of Light Therapy treatments on the human brain was performed in 2013. Multiple improvements were observed among participants who received Light Therapy compared to the placebo group. Light therapy participants experienced:
Quicker reaction time, proved with the sustained-attention psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) that measured the speed by which study participants responded to visual stimulus.
Better memory, proved by the delayed match-to-sample (DMS) memory task, where the outcome measures included measuring readiness for a quick response and the number of correct trials.
Improved mood, as Light Therapy helped participants to sustain more positive emotional states. The mood was measured by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), a clinical survey that measures feelings and emotions. The participants were asked to fill the form in before and two weeks after having a treatment.
Light Therapy against Cognitive Decline
In a more recent study effort, researchers treated older adults who were at risk of cognitive decline with Light Therapy. A positive neurocognitive effect was observed among the participants in this study, all of whom aged between 49 and 90. Some of the participants also struggled with cognitive decline due to vascular disease, however, Light Therapy was effective regardless of the nature of their cognitive decline.
As Light Therapy helped the elderly participants boost cognitive scores, researchers on the team were also able to observe their increased brain waves power (alpha, beta, and gamma brain waves in their resting state).
Combating age-related cognitive decline with Light Therapy has been in the focus of another recent study, published in February 2019. This study examined the frontal brain functions among elderly men. Frontal brain functions are key to directing behavior. The participants were divided into two groups, treatment, and placebo. Those who received treatment indeed showed improved cognitive performance following the treatment. These results demonstrate that Light Therapy can really work in a safe manner to treat age-related cognitive decline.
Light Therapy and Executive Function
As of 2017, we also know that Light Therapy can improve the brain’s executive function. This is your ability to manage time, pay attention, change focus, plan, organize, multitask, remember details, or avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time3. In other words, the ability to create and meet goals.
As research further suggests, Light Therapy helped study participants to better perform in the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST)4. This is a neurophysiological test where the task-takers are asked to match a set of cards presented to them, in an attempt to assess their ability to demonstrate cognitive flexibility–a key process in cognitive ability. They are not told how to match the cards, but only if their particular match is correct or not. The WCST is a clinical way to measure the brain’s executive function. Those participants who received Light Therapy made fewer errors on the task and demonstrated improved set-shifting ability compared to the control group.
Such results suggest that Light Therapy improves the brain’s executive function and may have intriguing potentials for treating or preventing deficits resulting both from aging or neuropsychological disorders which include conditions such as epilepsy, stroke, migraines, brain tumors, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s among others.
Can Light Therapy Improve Your Ability to Learn?
In 2017, scientists tested 118 people to see if Light Therapy can have a meaningful impact on their learning abilities. In a similar fashion to previous research, the participants were divided into treatment and placebo groups. Light Therapy showed that the treatment group improved their learning capabilities.
During the trial, the Light Therapy device was directed at the lateral prefrontal cortex of participants, and following treatments, they experienced faster and better rule-based learning5. So, imagine having all participants been bartenders demanded to know the exact ingredients of Mojito, Bloody Mary, Margarita, and other essential cocktails. This Light Therapy treatment would have aided their ability to remember all the ingredients needed for fashioning each drink, adding each ingredient in the desired sequence, or remember who on the table ordered a stronger Bloody Mary. We demonstrate this type of ability through our brain’s rule-based learning capacity.
Different life events may inhibit our brain’s ability to learn. Aging certainly is one of them. Other reasons may include extended exposures to pesticides or neurotoxins, which impair the mitochondria in brain cells. Since Light Therapy kind of “exercises” the mitochondria and prompts the brain to forge new neural networks, the process itself acts as a cognitive rehabilitation6. Which also leads us to the next section.
Light Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injuries
Cognitive decline may occur due to traumatic brain injuries, too. A person who suffers from one may face memory or concentration problems, mood swings, depression, anxiety, or speech problems among other TBI manifestations. What gives hope is another batch of studies that attests to the positive cognitive benefits among TBI patients from receiving Light Therapy.
Light Therapy has been shown to stimulate the growth of new nerve tissue and synapses in damaged brain cells, thus improving the cognitive brain functions of those patients who not only suffer from TBI but also from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The latter is a degenerative brain disease prevalent among athletes and military veterans or anyone who presents with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
Using light therapy to eradicate addictive behaviors in rats.
They targeted light in the prelimbic region of the brain in rats who were addicted to cocaine. They found that after exposure to light therapy the rats demonstrated a significant reduction in addictive behavior.
The lead author of the study, Antonello Bonci, MD, scientific director of the intramural research program at the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said: “When we turn on a laser light in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex, the compulsive cocaine seeking is gone.”
The study, published in Nature, highlights the role that the prefrontal cortex has in cocaine addiction and could help drive further testing in humans.
As one of the major health concerns in the U.S., cocaine addiction affects close to 1.2 million Americans and is responsible for a total of 482,188 emergency room visits every year.
One of the main problems with cocaine addiction is that people start taking the drug compulsively and lose the ability to function without it. About 80 percent of people who try to kick their cocaine addiction end up experiencing a relapse within six months.
Rats that were addicted to cocaine expressed low patterns of activity in their prefrontal cortex region of the brain – responsible for decision-making and behavioral flexibility.
Previous studies conducted on humans compulsively addicted to cocaine have found a similar pattern of low activity in this area of the brain as well.
The researchers measured the impact that laser light had on brain activity and addiction using a technique called optogenetics.
Through the use of genetic engineering they inserted proteins called rhodopsins into neurons located in the prefrontal cortex of rats. By activating this region of the brain with the laser they were able to turn the nerve cells on and off.
They observed that after turning the cells on there was a significant reduction in addictive behaviors in the rats compared to when the cells were turned off.
Among humans, the therapy would likely not involve the use of lasers, but instead the use of electromagnetic stimulation outside the scalp, with a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
A common beta blocker, propranolol, currently used to treat people with hypertension and anxiety, has shown to be effective in preventing the brain from retrieving memories associated with cocaine use in animal-addiction models, according to Devin Mueller, UWM assistant professor of psychology and a co-author with James Otis of the research.
"Right now, there are no FDA-approved medications that are known to successfully treat cocaine abuse," says Mueller, "only those that are used to treat the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, which are largely ineffective at preventing relapse."
The effects of propranolol were long-lasting and could be permanent, he says, even without subsequent doses and even in the presence of stimuli known to induce relapse.
Now, you don’t often hear about cats getting depressed. In fact, most people don’t even know if depression is possible in animals.
A typical morning for cats usually involves purring, meowing, and stretching alongside family members. Then they’ll go to their favorite place to settle down in, and you continue with your day.
While we become comfortable with our cat’s daily routine, do we actually know our feline pets? What if your cat is depressed? Could you understand why? How can you help your cat overcome winter blues?
Cats are extremely sensitive to changes in light, more than humans. If there’s less light, a decrease in brain chemicals, including serotonin, can occur. When the weather changes to rain or snow, it’s not unusual for cats to feel the shift in sunlight.
Your cat, whether indoor or outdoor, may become depressed during the winter months. The lack of sunlight, less physical activity, and more time alone can contribute to feelings of restlessness or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What causes SAD?
SAD in felines occurs similar to humans, and it’s highly influenced by the amount of sunlight they’re exposed to daily.
If your cat has SAD, you may notice them behaving gloomy and moving slower than usual during the winter. However, when April and May roll around, they have more energy and appear happier.
The lack of sunlight is a serious problem as it reduces melatonin production, which results in depression, lethargicness, and anxiety. It also creates low levels of serotonin which acts as a neurotransmitter. With low serotonin, your cat may show signs of aggression, mood swings, and depression.
Achieving chemical balance is not easy, especially since serotonin cannot be given in a shot or pill. While your vet may prescribe a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI), it comes with its side effects. A natural and non-invasive treatment option is light therapy, which adds natural sunlight into your cat’s environment to restore their chemical balance.
Using light therapy to treat SAD
You’ll often heart veterinarians recommend light therapy as a treatment for SAD. Light therapy is an affordable, natural, and non-invasive treatment option that can help stabilize your animal’s emotional highs and lows. And it costs less than a year’s supply of pet food.
At Kaiyan Medical, we recommend treating your animal for 30 minutes every day with red light therapy. Cat and dogs suffer from many conditions such as inflammation, arthritis, and infections. Light therapy gives you the chance to help treat your pet and reduce their pain and suffering.
How it works
How does red light therapy actually help to treat animals? While you may think the answer is complex, it’s not. Red light therapy delivers red and infrared light into the animal’s cells, boosting the body’s natural ability to heal.
Using either LEDs or LASER diodes, light penetrates through the skin, entering the body’s cells. Photoreceptors in your animal’s cells absorb the light’s energy, enhancing the natural healing process by stimulating the cells’ energy production.
The use of varying lights helps treat different areas of the body. For example, red light is easily absorbed by tissue rich in hemoglobin, helping to heal surface wounds.
Near-infrared light penetrated into deeper tissues within the body, entering muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments for extensive treatment. Combing red, green, and near-infrared light offers a well-rounded treatment for your animal.
What else light therapy can do for your cat?
The way light therapy stimulates cells can help treat several conditions in animals, including:
Clinical data has supported and proven light therapy’s effectiveness in treating animals. In one study, horses suffering from chronic back pain responded to red light therapy in less than three months of therapy, with 70% gaining the ability to train and compete. Other studies have also proven that horses treated with red light therapy experience faster tissue healing times.
If you’re considering treating your dog or cat with light therapy, the first thing you need to do is consult your veterinarian, ensuring it’s the right treatment option for your pet.
Light therapy treats various conditions; however, if your pet is experiencing severe SAD, they may need an extensive treatment plan. At Kayian Medical, we love our animals and want to provide them with the best support possible.
Low-Intensity Light Therapy: Exploring the Role of Redox Mechanisms. Joseph Tafur, M.D. and Paul J. Mills, Ph.D.
Effect of NASA light-emitting diode irradiation on wound healing. J Clin Laser Med Surg. 2001
Treatment of chronic back pain in horses. Stimulation of acupuncture points with a low-powered infrared laser. Martin BB Jr. 1987.
Equine wound healing: influence of low-level laser therapy on an equine metacarpal wound healing model. Jann. 2012.
Effect of light-emitting diode (LED) therapy on the development of osteoarthritis (OA) in a rabbit model. Biomed Pharmacother. 2011
Low-level laser therapy reduces time to ambulation in dogs after hemilaminectomy: a preliminary study. Draper WE. 2012
Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause multiple symptoms. It’s frequently characterized by intense, debilitating headaches. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness or tingling, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines often run in families and affect all ages.
People describe migraine pain as:
Migraine symptoms may begin one to two days before the headache itself. This is known as the prodrome stage. Symptoms during this stage can include:
Fatigue or low energy
LED Green Light: a Novel, Non-Invasive, and Non-Pharmacological Therapy.
The effects of green light on the brain have been researched and well-documented for years. The green light can reset the circadian rhythm through melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles. A special photoreceptor system in the human eye picks up light and elicits non-visual responses, sending signals to the brain to reset the body’s internal clock and altering melatonin production levels.
Long-time sufferers of migraines and other chronic pain conditions may benefit from exposure to LED green light. A new study, led by pharmacologist Mohab M. Ibrahim, M.D., Ph.D., found that the color green may be key to easing pain.
Ibrahim’s interest in studying the ameliorating effects of green light was inspired by his brother, who has dealt with severe headaches for several years. Instead of taking ibuprofen, his brother would sit in his garden and soak up the verdure of nature to ease the pain from his headaches.
“I wanted to see what is in his garden or in a garden, in general, that would make headaches better,” said Ibrahim, director of the Chronic Pain Management Clinic at Banner — University Medical Center Tucson.
In his clinical practice, Ibrahim also saw that his patients suffering from migraines and fibromyalgia had limited treatment options, and wanted to find a novel, non-invasive, nonpharmacological therapy.
In his study, which has yet to be published, Ibrahim exposed 25 migraine volunteers first to white lights for two hours as a control, then to green LED lights. He measured multiple parameters, including pain reduction, frequency of migraines or headaches, frequency of fibromyalgia flare-ups, pain intensity and duration, and quality of life.
On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 indicating no pain and 10 the highest level of pain, migraine volunteers had an initial average baseline pain score of 8. After completing the green light therapy, their score dropped down to an average of 2.8. The frequency of headaches dropped from 19 to 6.5 per month, and the overall quality of life climbed from 48 percent to 78 percent.
“The best part about it … is the simplicity, the affordability and, most importantly, the lack of side effects,” Ibrahim said. “It’s a normal light. We’re not using a high-energy laser or anything like that.”
But if pain works through the nervous system, how exactly can green light, which works through the visual system, make people feel better?
New studies show that there are neuronal connections that span from the retina all the way to the spinal cord, passing through the parts of the brain that control and modulate pain. Green light changes the levels of serotonin and alters the endogenous opioid system, an innate pain-relieving system found throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system, said Bing Liao, M.D., a neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital.
“The endogenous opioid system … allows the body to generate something similar to opioids and gives us a sensation of pain relief and happy feeling,” Liao said. “Research has found that, with green light, the receptors of the endogenous opioid system can increase production in the brain and body, and the hormone by itself can increase in production, as well. … It might be an explanation for why people feel good when they’re in a green environment.”
While more studies must be done to test the efficacy of green light therapy as a treatment for chronic pain, Ibrahim said he is trying to advance this therapy as a complement to current therapies.
“What this green light therapy offers is a non-invasive, non-pharmacological additional tool, so it might help reduce opioids,” he said. “I don’t think it will eliminate opioids, but at least it may reduce it enough. It may provide people just with extra help or extra relief so that they may not need the number of opioids that they’re on.”