There are various laser based medical treatment options available and the year 2010 marked its golden jubilee. There is a lot of data backing the health benefits of these treatments.
With red low-light wavelengths going through the skin, red light therapy can easily be a catalyst to protein and tissue repair and recovery in the body. It also boosts blood flow and circulation and stimulates collagen production
A lot of advances have been made in red light therapy, but are they really effective? Studies have shown that they do have certain healing potentials and medical applications because they have a positive overall effect on the human endocrine and immune systems.
This form of treatment has now gotten FDA approval for specific conditions such as chronic joint pain and wounds that are persistent. In the future, with more and more research we expect to see more approvals in other areas of medicine.
What is Red light therapy
Red light therapy is basically a low wavelength low power red light that is transmitted directly to your skin. The process is completely painless. It doesn’t produce any reactions whatsoever. This light can be absorbed by the skin up to a depth of 10 millimeters and this is the point where it can have an effect on the cellular level and consequently impact your nervous and metabolic processes. This light is called low level as it operates at a level much lower in density than other forms of light.
It is very likely you have never heard of red light therapy but are already familiar with other terms that have been used to describe it such as photobiomodulation (PBM), low light therapy or photonic stimulation.
There is still some uncertainty around this kind of treatment and reluctance amongst the general public and so a lot more research is needed in this area to prove the benefits. There is virtually no side effects of red light therapy and it has a long list of benefits to health and wellness.
According to a 2012 report published in Annals in Biomedical Engineering, red light therapy can be applied in three main ways
- To alleviate inflammation, edema and chronic pain
- To promote healing of persistent wounds and damage to tissues and nerves
- To treat neurological disorders
An engineer and scientist in the field of red light therapy named Leanne Venier further elaborates that the light frequencies involved and its inherent healing properties represent a naturally energizing and stimulating effect in humans mainly because of its effect on our central nervous system.
According to her findings, alongside several other reports from other notable organizations including NASA, red light therapy can trigger the sympathetic nervous system and therefore impact our fight or flight response.
When your body is in this fight or flight mode, the effect is improved blood circulation, heightened sensitivity and concentration and rapid heartbeats. This can be a good thing as it fosters the distribution of nutrients to our cells and control inflammatory responses.
What are some of the benefits of red light therapy known to us?
- Boost in overall energy levels as it promotes release of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from cells
- Stimulates the synthesis of new DNA/RNA
- Triggers the lymphatic system which forms a key part of our immune system
- Improved blood circulation and consequent distribution of nutrients and oxygen to our cells and tissues
- Synthesis of new capillaries
- Improved production of collagen and fibroblasts that are key for skin health and joints
- Rejuvenation of damaged tissue
- Reducing inflammation and improving healing
- Reducing the effects of oxidative stress that is commonly associated with aging
Below is more scientific data that backs the benefits of red light therapy
Boost in immunity and side effect alleviation in cancer treatments
From studies carried out by NASA, it was found that red light therapy can actually reduce the symptoms experienced by cancer patients during treatment and chemotherapy. With the use of far red and near infrared lights, it has been proven that an exposure to these long wavelength energies can actually stimulate haling in cells.
NASA ran a lot of tests with oral mucositis which is a very painful side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It was found that over 95% of the patients recorded improvement in pain that they experienced.
Healing and tissue repair
Any light that falls within the spectral range of 600 to 1300 nanometers has been discovered to be effective in healing and tissue repair/skin rejuvenation. This it achieves through a variety of mechanisms. A lot of the laser therapies used by skin care experts involves the use of intense pulsed light to rejuvenate the skin and induce tissue repair. Basically, they intentionally damage the epidermis and trigger the inflammation that will be followed by healing.
Red light therapy is more effective because it actually bypasses this initial skin damage and instead goes directly to the tissue repair and rejuvenation part by increasing cellular proliferation, migration and adhesion.
Anti-aging effects for skin and hair loss
Another major area where red light therapy has gained increasing effectiveness is in skin treatment and anti-aging therapy. According to results from a 2014 study carried out and published in Phitomedicine and Laser Surgery, the efficacy and safety of RLT in anti-aging therapy tremendous. Researchers came to the conclusion that red infrared therapy “provides a safe, non-ablative, non-thermal, atraumatic photobiomodulation treatment of skin tissue with high patient satisfaction rates.”
The subjects that were treated with red light therapy experienced significant improvement in their skin health, looks and tone. There was a reduction in roughness and wrinkles and an increased level of collagen production. Patients that were dealing with rosacea and redness also indicated a general relief from the issues surrounding this complication.
Another anti-aging property of RLT is the reversal of hair loss through hair follicle growth stimulation. This works in a lot of ways similar to the skin and tissue healing process, a lot of patients both male and female had positive feedback of hair loss and baldness reversal when they went through RLT
Improved Joint and musculoskeletal health
RLT is now being deployed for arthritis treatment due to its ability to stimulate collagen production and rejuvenate cartilage in the body.
From a 2009 study in the Cochrane review, it was found that “LLLT could be considered for short-term treatment for relief of pain and morning stiffness for RA patients, particularly since it has few side-effects.”
For those people who do not have any issues with arthritis but suffer from other forms of tissue damage perhaps due to aging, LLLT can still be of benefit. A study carried out in 200 and published in The Lancet proved that “LLLT reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients with chronic neck pain.”
Other studies have shown that even when patients have a musculoskeletal disorder, they do not experience less pain from RLT and they have a higher probability of a significantly improved result including better range of motion.
Cellular rejuvenation and improved blood circulation as a result of RLT are two main aspects of improvement in tissue health and joint pain alleviation.
Better sleep quality
The human body responds to natural light to help stimulate the biological systems to action. When you are indoors all day and hardly see any light, the energy levels you have at a cellular level drop and your circadian rhythm declines and this leads to various issues such as poor sleep, fatigue and weight gain.
If you find that you don’t get out enough, RLT might be the way out for you to expose your body to some natural light. This will help reset your circadian clock and return your body functions to normal
Helps with depression and fatigue
Another potential benefit that has been found with RLT is in the area of fatigue and depression. This is most evident when you see this through eastern medicine. RLT helps improve health, memory, immunity and recovery and this will generally translate into a general feeling of wellbeing and high spirits.
As we all know:
Light is a form of energy and we are made up of energy
Light can stimulate specific chi zones in your body
Red stimulates the chi most closely associated with your survival instincts
RLT suggests that this kind of light is generally energizing and can be associated with better moods, confidence and general positivity
Even though a lot of studies have shown that RLT can come with a lot of benefits there still isn’t enough evidence to conclusively determine if it can treat some conditions such as cancer, depression and a severely compromised immune system. There are of course other wavelength of light that have their own benefits and you might even achieve better results with other forms of light if you’re dealing with a skin or muscular condition.
Red Light versus Blue light therapy
There are similarities in the benefits that red light and blue light therapy offer even though they work in different ways.
The modus operandi is still not completely understood but it is believed that PBM devices that generate light at these wavelengths similar to blue light lasers but with broader output peaks.
Blue light is usually used at home from LEDs especially in acne treatment. It has been discovered that blue light penetrates into the sebaceous glands in the skin and can kill porphyrins which are resident in acne.
Red light is also believed to have the ability to penetrate the skin even much deeper and can also be used to treat acne and other skin disorders by reducing inflammation and boosting healing
Both forms of light can be generated from tabletop light therapy devices but these are usually weaker and require longer for treatment purposes.
According to the Wellman center for photo medicine in Massachusetts general hospital, there is s till a lot of unknowns around light therapy and there are so many parameters for doctors to evaluate before treating patients with these therapies.
PBM (Photobiomodulation) vs Infrared Sauna Treatment
With saunas, the primary treatment mechanism is heat and this drives different biological processes while light therapy devices do not make use of heat
Infrared saunas operate by heating the objects inside the sauna room rather than heating the air itself like with regular saunas.
Heat is a form of energy that can have several health benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, detoxification and physical drive. These two approaches can actually be used in tandem to achieve optimal results.
It is now easy to enjoy the benefits of red light therapy at home with the use of cutting edge devices.
One such example is the light bed known as Theralight 360 HD. This is a very powerful commercial product for end users and practitioners because it can be used by anybody without any supervision.
This bed will offer the user short but intense 10-15 minutes sessions and can have a wholesome effect on the body. It comes with 4 deep penetrating wavelengths with adjustable frequencies and power that can all be controlled with a wireless tablet.
According to the manufacturers, the bed can be used as a general wellness tool or as a medicinal device for purposes including but not limited to:
- Joint pain relief
- Blood circulation
- Healing and recovery after injury
Another popular and affordable option for consumers is manufactured by a company called Joovy, the Joovy light panels are especially good when you are dealing with symptoms that are associated with a lack of exposure to natural light and this includes poor sleep. If you find you are not getting out a lot and you need to regulate your circadian rhythm, you should consider suing this natural light therapy in your house or office for 10-20 minutes daily
Will Insurance pay for PBM?
A lot of doctors consider red light therapy as alternative treatment since a lot more research is still needed to confirm their overall efficacy. Some medical insurance companies as at now state that low level laser therapy is experimental so they won’t provide coverage but depending on what condition you are treating, you can speak with your dermatologist and medical practitioner for treatment options. You might be able to get a referral.
How often should you use red light therapy?
Everybody reacts to red light therapy in different ways that are unique to the patient. A general rule of thumb is to do this for about 8-12 weeks consistently and you can start with short sessions then move on to longer sessions.
RLT is a low level, low energy therapy that your body has a lot of tolerance for and very unlikely to have any side effects. It is still unclear if it can benefit all patients. One issue that researchers have had in getting results from their studies on RLT is isolating the exact light range that treats various health conditions in different patients.
Red light therapy in all its different forms basically represents red and near infrared wavelength treatment of the skin
It works by stimulating the cellular rejuvenation, improving cardiovascular flow and stimulating collagen production
It can be used to treat a lot of conditions and side effects from cancer treatment.
Side effects of this treatment are basically non-existent
There is a lot of ongoing research in this area of medicine.