- Pain Reduction
- Skin Health (wound healing, scar repair, reduction of fine lines and wrinkles)
- Muscle Recovery
- Improved Sleep
- Stabilized Mood
- Neurological Well Being
- Positive Cellular Replication: Anti-Aging
From neurological specialists to the pages of beauty magazines the use of red light therapy has become a beacon of hope for a plentitude of conditions and a source of renewed vitality.
So, what is the big deal?
How is it possible that a color light can boast so many positive health benefits for such a vast array of ailments? Understanding the answer to this question involves taking a closer look at the biological response that occurs as the body is exposed to red and near infrared light wavelengths.
Specific cellular photoreceptor mechanisms absorb the light energy from red and near infrared spectrums to create a cascade of positive biological responses. Among them are, but not limited to, pain reduction, skin health, muscle recovery, improved sleep, stabilized mood, neurological health, and positive cellular replication for anti-aging purposes.
This article will outline in detail the specific cellular response to red and near infrared light. This stokes the powerful transfiguration of the body into greater degrees of health and vitality when exposed regularly to therapeutic doses of the red and near infrared light spectrum.
Waves, Frequency, And Light: A Brief Exploration Into The Light Spectrum
The sun that our planet revolves around is the primordial source of both light and life on our planet. Radiating off of the sun is the entire spectrum of light both visible and invisible. Light travels in patterns that look somewhat like the waves of the ocean which are referred to as wavelengths. Each color of the light spectrum has a unique wave pattern similar to fingerprints. Both visible and invisible light has an effect on its recipients based on the patterned wave frequency that is emitted.
Light frequency is measured in nanometers. Light that is vibrating within the bracket of 600-900 nm has demonstrated to be particularly heathful to cellular health. This measurement encompasses both the visible light frequency of red as well as near infrared light. The latter of which is invisible to the human eye, but can be experienced as a subtle heat.
It is the very unique relationship between human cellular composition and the red and near infrared light spectrum that creates a cascade of biochemical changes to produce an internal climate ripe with vitality and health.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work: Photobiomodulation To Ignite The Health Of Every Cell Of The Body
- Mitochondrial Activity Is Increased To Improve Energy Conversion
- Augmented ATP Production
- Reduction Of Cellular Waste
- Nitric Oxide Increase
- Improved Overall Blood Circulation
Red light therapy as it is known colloquially, or photobiomodulation (PBM), as it is known in scientific terms, has become a very popular therapy both for deep seated medical conditions as well as a cosmetic treatment.
PBM is not a thermal therapy, but rather depends upon how the red and near infrared light travel as wave frequency both around and into the body. (1)
As the body is saturated by a red light bath, the unique imprint of wave frequency from the red and near infrared spectrum is absorbed by the photoreceptors of each cell of the body.
Specifically, it is the Cytochrome C Oxidase, the membrane wall that surrounds the mitochondria of cells that absorbs light photons. The mitochondria is the power plant of each individual cell and is responsible for energy conversion. (1)
The unique capacity of the red and infrared light to be absorbed by the inner walls of the cell sparks a tremendous cascade of biological changes. The National Institute Of Health recently published the following description of PBM:
“Photobiomodulation (PBM) involves the utilization of light from the visible and near infrared portions of the spectrum at a relatively low power density that is insufficient to heat or burn tissue… Rather, the photons themselves stimulate chemical changes within the cells, provoking biological reactions that benefit the body in a variety of ways – including the triggering of neuroprotective responses, improvements in metabolism, blood flow, and neurogenesis, and decreases in inflammation and oxidative stress.” (2)
Saunas.org Tip: A Basic RunDown Of Cellular Response To Red And Near Infrared Light
By exposing the body to red and near infrared light in controlled doses allows for the absorption of these wave frequencies into the inner chamber of each and every cell to trigger a remarkable upgrade in mitochondrial activity. ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate Production), the necessary molecule involved in energy transmutation in the cell is stimulated. By enhancing nitric oxide production, oxygenation of the intracellular communities is augmented.
In short, humans absorb light not only through the eyes but also through the epidermis. Certain wavelengths are able to penetrate the body with greater ease to effect a change within each cell, namely red and infrared light. Photoreceptors are activated by contact with this light frequency and a domino effect, originating within the energy centers of each cell, ultimately affects all portions of human physiology.
Consider also that the human body is composed of roughly fifty trillion cells, as the body is immersed in red and infrared light, quite literally each cell is illuminated by these wavelengths. It is for this reason that PBM has a resounding positive effect on a vast array of conditions.
Pain Reduction: Improve Circulation To Decrease Inflammation
Inflammation is created within the body in very localized ways as a reaction to blunt trauma causing injury. Inflammation can show up chronically as a result of autoimmune related conditions. Either way, where there is inflammation in the body, there is also pain.
While an inflammatory response is often important and healthy in injury recovery, prolonged inflammation can be debilitating and cause significant chronic pain.
When individuals are exposed to therapeutic doses of red light, ATP production is augmented. Nitric oxide is produced at higher rates as it causes blood flow to speed up bringing necessary nutrients to damaged tissues of the body. (3)
Where there is healthful circulation, inflammation retracts and pain is reduced. Some individuals notice a remarkable decrease in inflammation after just fifteen minutes under the influence of red and near infrared light.
Skin Health: Augment Fibroblasts, Collagen, And Elastin
The skin is the largest organ of the human body; it mediates between the internal external environment. The epidermis is composed of two primary proteins that weave together to produce the texture and quality of skin, collagen and elastin.
Red light therapy is particularly effective as a tool to increase the quality of skin tone because it fosters the health of fibroblast cells that are the precursor to collagen. Fibroblasts are believed to largely be responsible for the healing mechanism of the skin. When there is injury to the skin fibroblasts migrate to the area to deposit collagen. (4)
A body that is high in fibroblasts will experience faster wound healing, decrease in fine lines, and an overall healthier look and feel to the skin. A study performed by the National Institute of Health demonstrates substantial benefits for the skin after using red and near infrared light on individuals suffering from severe burns, psoriasis, and acne. (5)
Ground zero of the process of creating not only more fibroblasts, but also improving migratory speed, begins with heightened mitochondrial activity of each cell resulting from increased energy conversion that occurs due to absorption of the red and near infrared light. From the National Institute of Health’s journal on red light therapy and skin wound healing:
“Red light stimulates the copper/heme-iron centers on cytochrome C oxidase (CCO), an intramitochondrial component of the electron transport chain. CCO is a protein complex containing two copper and heme-iron groups that play a key role in the electron transport within the mitochondrial. LED-RL photostimulation of CCO directly influences reactive oxygen species (ROS) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and results in increased ROS and ATP levels.” (5)
Whether you are looking to heal scars, purify the skin, or just looking to improve the overall tone and look of your skin, exposure to red light in therapeutic doses demonstrates positive results for skin. Further, this treatment is non-invasive, easily accessible and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
Muscle recovery: Photobiomodulation and Tissue Repair
Over forty-six studies have been performed on both trained and untrained individuals engaged in exercise to determine if red light therapy is a significant factor in muscle recovery. Overwhelming evidence suggests that the application of red and near infrared light after exercise dramatically increased the rate of muscle recovery in both groups of individuals. (6)
The National Institute of Health published the following journal, ‘Photobiomodulation In Human Muscle Tissue: An Advantage In Sports Recovery’. The clinical results found on muscle recovery in the studies highlighted by this journal were remarkable. Here is what it says on the biological process behind the increase muscle repair:
“The rationale for using PBM on muscles relies on the well-known stimulation of mitochondrial activity that occurs after red or near-infrared photons delivered to the tissue have been absorbed by cytochrome c oxidase. Muscles rely heavily on adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the biological source of energy needed for muscle work, and therefore robust increased ATP levels are the most popular hypothesis to explain the extraordinary effects that PBM appears to exert on muscle tissue.” (6)
Whether for elite level athletes or individuals engaged in moderate exercise, the combination of red and near infrared light exposure will aid in both quality and speed of muscle repair. This is particularly significant for individuals looking to increase the frequency of workouts, with less recovery time between sessions. Athletes competing at an elite level would do well to incorporate photobiomodulation into their post workout routine to augment performance.
Improve Sleep And Balance Circadian Rhythm
Adequate sleep is essential to maintaining a healthy and vitality filled body; unfortunately, a sound night’s sleep eludes many individuals. While there are a plethora of causes that impact quality of sleep, it is believed that over exposure to blue light as found in computers, televisions, cell phones and other devices disturbs circadian rhythm.
While limiting screen time is certainly helpful in achieving a restful night’s sleep, for many it is simply impossible to avoid hours spent in front of a screen. If individuals are able to modulate exposure to blue light by increasing red light exposure, research suggests that circadian rhythm can be balanced and improve sleep experience.
From the International Journal of Endocrinology:
“Results showed that, as expected, only the blue light reduced nocturnal melatonin” (7)
Melatonin is a necessary component to induce a healthy and restful night’s sleep. As blue light has been shown to decrease melatonin production, red light does the very opposite. Neurotransmitters pick up signals from the red and near infrared light spectrum to produce ameliorated serotonin uptake. Serotonin is converted into melatonin in the pineal gland, a small pinecone shaped gland in the center of the brain as the sun goes down. (6)
Morning sunlight is stronger in red and infrared light. As many individuals are inside office buildings during this time, they are missing out on exposure to this spectrum of light. To balance circadian rhythm it is imperative to ‘catch up’ on lost red light exposure. With a simple red and near infrared light instrument this can be done in a matter of minutes.
While it may not be practical to eliminate over exposure to blue light from screens, it is possible to balance this with red light therapy, in doing so sleep mechanisms are improved.
Stabilized Mood With Red Light Therapy
For many of the same reasons that red and near infrared light positively impacts sleep, this spectrum of light has also demonstrated positive effects on mood stability.
Quality of sleep is closely related to mood stability. Many individuals living with depression and anxiety also experience sleep disturbances. As circadian rhythm is balanced, very often there is a natural stabilization of mood.
Further exposure to red light positively impacts neurotransmitters to induce serotonin uptake. As serotonin levels are balanced within the brain, so too is mood. From a journal published by Psychiatric Times:
“The response [to red light therapy] is quite rapid, often within a week or two, which is more rapid than the response to antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy,” (9)
While there is still more to learn and discover about how red and near infrared light impact the emotional centers of the brain, there is enough clinical evidence to demonstrate that mood is positively impacted by exposure to this light spectrum. (9)
Neurological Health And Red Light Therapy
Exposure to the red and near infrared spectrum of light appears to be wildly impactful on neurological health, and very specifically on the creation of new brain cells: Neurogenesis.
The National Institute Of Health has been studying the effects of light on brain health for several decades. From a recent journal publication on the topic:
“Animal research has shown that PBM stimulates neurogenesis and protects against cell death. Data suggest that red light, close to the NIR spectrum (670 nm), protects the viability of cell culture after oxidative stress, as indicated by mitochondria membrane potentials.” (10)
The implications of this research is promising for brain degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, and Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, not only is red and near infrared light correlated to increased neurogenesis, it may also reduce inflammation in the brain. (10)
Many brain related disorders demonstrate mild to severe inflammation. Inflammation of the brain can be reduced by sparking mitochondrial activity, improving ATP production, and blood flow to the brain.
Additionally, in more recent years PBM has been used to treat stroke patients, or ‘cerebral Ischemia’. From the peer reviewed journal ‘Frontier Neurology’:
“The main benefits attributed to brain PBM therapy are related to different biological processes such as increasing cerebral metabolic function, stimulating neurogenesis and synaptogenesis, and neuroprotection via anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant biological signaling.”
From treating post stroke patients, brain injury, and degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the red and near infrared light demonstrates a promising safe means toward neurological health.
Positive Cellular Replication: Extending The Life Span Of Cells
All organisms have a life span, including cells. Disease is often manifested when the life span of cells is decreased, and new cells are not able to replicate fast enough to replace the rate of dying cells. Apoptosis, is the name for programmed cell death, this is the completion of the natural life cycle of a cell.
Health issues arise when external factors from the environment such as pollution, pathogens, and toxic heavy metals, deplete the body of vital life force and cells begin to die before their programmed death. Ultimately if cells are dying at a faster rate than they are able to be healthfully replicated, illness may ensue.
There are many factors in our environment that are beyond the immediate control of the individual; however, it is possible to reverse the premature death of human cells by exposing the body to red and near infralight in therapeutic doses.
Although it remains unclear exactly how and why photobiomodulation affects the life span of cells, this therapy has proven to extend the life cycle of cells so that renewal and replication occurs in alignment with apoptosis, programmed cell death.
The Marriage Of Red And Near Infrared Light: Why The Coupling Of These Two Spectrums?
Most photobiomodulation devices come equipped with the color red spectrum as well as near infrared light. What is it about this combination that has such a powerful positive effect on human physiology?
According to the journal ‘Frontiers in Neurology’, the unique blend of these two light spectrums play off of each other to create a powerhouse of tandem light unity.
“It is important to highlight the scientific rationale for the use of red and NIR wavelengths at the same time. Our research group already reported previously that irradiations with red and NIR wavelengths at the same time possibly offer advantages based on the absorption bands of the chromophores in the cells that absorb light, in special cytochrome c oxidase in the mitochondrial electron transport chain, resulting in even more synthesis of ATP than either red or NIR used alone.”
As was discussed earlier, each light spectrum has a unique wave pattern, similar to the human fingerprint. The specific quality of frequency emanating from the red and infrared light spectrum join forces to meet the photoreceptors within each human cell to produce a cascade of health benefits.
Understanding the human form as a community of trillions of cells working together to create balance, equilibrium, and health; it makes sense that optimizing the energy centers of each cell will positively affect overall health.
With red and near infrared light working in tandem in therapeutic doses it is possible to optimize cellular function and therefore overall radiant health.