Red Light Therapy
The sun is an extremely powerful ball of gas that affects all that we do here on Earth, even though it’s 93 million miles away.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
Without the sun, we’d be dead. It’s not even remotely morbid to say that, as it’s a basic fact.
The point I’m making here is that the sun, which gives us heat and light in the form of radiation, impacts our health every single second of the day.
This goes to show just how important light can be for human flourishing.
Because light is so good for us, I wanted to write about an integrative therapy called “red light therapy” and tell you about how it could possibly boost your health.
We have a machine here at the office that delivers red light (as well as vitamin D), and if you’re convinced after this article that red light might benefit you, then perhaps setting up an appointment to use it could be in the cards.
How Red Light Therapy Works
Ok, so red light therapy is exactly what you think it is.
Remember back to middle-school science class, and you might recall that light exists on a spectrum. With red light therapy the wavelengths that produce red light can be focused into low-level lasers to be directed at the body to induce changes.
Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level laser therapy (LLLT), works by using specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to trigger biological processes in the body. Here’s a deeper look at how it works and the types of devices used.
Your body’s cells absorb specific wavelengths of red (around 660 nanometers) and near-infrared (around 850 nanometers) light. The main area of your cell that absorbs the light is the mitochondria, often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell.
Once absorbed, this light energy is thought to enhance the function of mitochondria, leading to increased production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the cell.
The more ATP you can produce, the better.
And when you increase the production of ATP, it will stimulate various cellular processes.
And this is where things get exciting.
Increases in ATP production can lead to increased collagen production, reduced inflammation, and enhanced blood flow. There’s also reason to believe it will aid in repairing damaged cells and promoting regeneration of tissues.
And best of all, red light therapy is non-invasive in nature. It does not involve heat that can damage the skin, making it a safe option for various applications.
Ok, now that you understand a bit more about how it works, let’s go through some of the evidence-based benefits you may experience.
Known Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy
The thing is, we’ve been getting red light therapy from the sun for years.
But, here in this day and age, we’ve figured out how to actively direct it to the parts of our body that need help the most:
1 – Skin Health and Anti-Aging:
When red light therapy is directed at the skin, it can help flick those mitochondria into overdrive, which helps reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage.
The exact mechanism is the increase in collagen production, which is key to maintaining skin elasticity and firmness. Studies have shown that red light therapy can improve skin complexion and texture and reduce signs of aging.
2 – Pain and Inflammation Relief:
One of the primary uses of red light therapy is for pain relief.
Many of us deal with pain on a daily basis, so it’s good to know there are studies backing up its use for taking care of inflammation and pain related to conditions such as arthritis, neck pain, back pain, and tendonitis.
The therapy works by reducing inflammation and increasing circulation to the affected areas, aiding pain relief. This is where at-home red light therapy devices can be quite helpful.
3 – Accelerated Wound Healing:
Similar to the two points above, where the body activates collagen production and reduces inflammation, Red light therapy can also help you heal.
Both superficial wounds and deeper ones occur in muscles and tissues.
It’s beneficial in accelerating the healing process of wounds, reducing recovery time post-surgery, and aiding in treating chronic wounds like diabetic foot ulcers.
The main mechanism here is the activation of mitochondria associated with immune cells, which gives them extra “energy” and direction to go to an injured part of the body and begin repair.
There are a fair number of studies that show people who have surgery or who are severely hurt can use red light therapy to heal.
4 – Mental Health Benefits:
I think everyone knows that a quick way to boost mental health is to go outside and get some exposure to the sun. A lack of sunlight is a big reason people experience depression in the winter.
As it turns out, exposure to red light is believed to affect brain health positively.
It may help improve mood and sleep by influencing circadian rhythms. Additionally, it’s being explored as a treatment for depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
5 – Hair Growth Stimulation:
I have little doubt that one of the biggest reasons people use Red light therapy is because it has shown promising results in stimulating hair growth in individuals with androgenetic alopecia. It is believed to work by increasing blood flow to the scalp and stimulating hair follicles.
And yes, there are studies to back this up.
In 2018, a meta-analysis examined 22 studies comparing red light therapy to other treatments like Finasteride and Dutasteride. This analysis concluded that red light therapy was a superior treatment for hair loss, notably without the side effects often associated with these drugs.
6 – Reduction of Inflammation:
The anti-inflammatory properties of red light therapy are beneficial in treating various inflammatory conditions, including acne and rosacea, by reducing swelling and redness.
Several studies have highlighted the effectiveness of red light therapy in reducing inflammation in various conditions.
One study in “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine“ found significant reductions in pain and inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Another study in “Photomedicine and Laser Surgery” demonstrated that red light therapy effectively reduced inflammation and promoted healing in patients with shoulder tendinitis.
Known as photobiomodulation, red light therapy involves exposing the body to low-level red or near-infrared light, stimulating cellular activity, and promoting natural biological processes that reduce inflammation.
For example, it has been shown to reduce lung inflammation in rats with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and decrease inflammation and pain in individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome, as per a study published in the “Journal of Biomedical Optics” in 2016.
Truth be told, there are even more benefits, but I don’t want this article to run too much longer than it already is.
Which Devices to Use?
Red light therapy is not cheap, and that’s probably the biggest downside.
Good ones are at least $1,000, and you can go as high as $130,000!
That’s why using one owned by a clinic or health club is a great idea.
That being said, let’s talk about the kinds out there.
Handheld and Portable Devices: These are small, often battery-operated devices that can be used for targeted treatment. They are convenient for treating small areas such as the face, joints, or specific spots of pain or injury.
Desk Lamps and Panels: Larger than handheld devices, these can cover bigger body areas. They are suitable for home use and can be positioned to treat specific body parts like the back, chest, or legs.
Full-Body Panels and Beds: For full-body treatment, large panels or bed-like devices are available. These are often found in specialized clinics and wellness centers. They provide an all-over treatment that benefits skin health, muscle recovery, and systemic effects like improved energy levels.
Face Masks: Specially designed for facial treatment, these masks emit red light to help with skin issues like wrinkles, fine lines, and acne.
Comb Devices for Hair: These are designed to stimulate hair growth on the scalp. They are combed through the hair, allowing the light to reach the scalp and stimulate hair follicles.
More are sure to be released in the next few years, and I hope that we continue to learn more about this exciting health therapy in the years to come.