Red Light and Near-Infrared Therapy: An Overview
Red Light Therapy, also referred to as Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation – is the act of utilizing red light (and/or near-infrared light) for beneficial properties within the body.
Practical examples of this therapy may include the use of a laser that emits light in red light spectrum onto an injured body part, or red-light LED shown on the body. Red Light Therapy is an FDA approved treatment for acne, muscle and joint pain, compromised blood circulation, reversing hair loss and fat loss.
When one explores the 50,000 plus scientific and clinical studies conducted on Red Light Therapy to date, one will find that no matter what type of health complication a individual has, they can most likely benefit tremendously from Red Light and Near-Infrared Light Therapy.
The research into the power of red light to improve health and treat disease continues to gain momentum. What is being discovered through this research is that red and near-infrared light therapy can benefit virtually every system of the body.
This light can improve the way one looks – it can help shed inches of fat, reduce the signs of aging, regrow hair, increase the results from workouts, reduce pain, speed healing, boost hormonal health, and lower inflammation.
Expanding on the specific benefits of red and near-infrared light that have been shown in studies, below are the major benefits that have been proven by scientific research for Near-Infrared and Red-Light Therapy:
The Top 17 Benefits of Near-Infrared and Red-Light Therapy
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A wealth of human studies is proving near-infrared and Red Light Therapy can reverse the signs of aging, repair damage from UV rays, and reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and even hard to remove scars.
Dozens of studies have shown that red and near-infrared light therapy can:
- Reduce the signs of damage, DNA damage, and aging from UV rays
- Reduce wrinkles
- Reduce color patches, hyperpigmentation, and skin discoloration
- Enhance collagen synthesis and collagen density (research has shown it can enhance production of collagen by 31%)
- Accelerate repair in the epithelial layer of skin
- Combat other skin conditions like acne, keloids, vitiligo, burns, herpes virus sores, and psoriasis
- Speed wound healing by enhancing skin tissue repair and growth of skin cell
Near-infrared and Red Light Therapy has proven to help women with alopecia to significantly regrow and thicken hair.
Near-infrared and Red Light Therapy has also proven to regrow hair in men with hair loss in several studies.
One study found that when near-infrared and Red Light Therapy is combined with massage, it led to an astounding 71% reduction in cellulite!
Another study that assessed the use of near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy on skin health, found that "91% of subjects reported improved skin tone, and 82% reported enhanced smoothness of skin in the treatment area."
Near-infrared and Red Light Therapy are fantastic for wound healing. Red/infrared light accomplishes this in several ways:
- Cleaning up dead and damaged cells in skin (phagocytosis)
- Increasing ATP in skin cells, giving cells more energy to heal themselves
- Increasing the production of fibroblasts
- Increasing blood flow, supplying the wound more oxygen and nutrients needed for repair
- Stimulating the production of collagen and the health of the extracellular matrix
- Stimulating lymph activity
- Stimulating the formation of new connective tissue and blood capillaries on the surface of the wound
Studies show that Red Light Therapy is also effective at restoring energy and vitality in persons suffering with fibromyalgia. Multiple studies have found that near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy offers:
- Enhanced quality of life for fibromyalgia patients
- Decreased pain
- Decreased muscle spasm
- Decreased morning stiffness
- Decreased total tender point number in fibromyalgia cases
Several studies have shown profound benefits of near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy for autoimmune hypothyroidism.
- A recent 2013 randomized, placebo-controlled study in hypothyroid patients demonstrated that in people who got near infrared light therapy, thyroid function dramatically improved, and remarkably, that thyroid antibody (TPOAb) levels were massively reduced. Amazingly, 47% of patients were able to stop medication completely!
- A 2010 study found that Red Light Therapy helped 38 %of study participants reduce their hypothyroid medication dose, with a whopping 17 %being able to stop taking the medication altogether!
- A 1997 study done in Russia included some data on people with autoimmune hypothyroidism who underwent a thyroid surgery. They found that red/NIR light therapy improved thyroid hormone levels enough that they required, on average, roughly half as much thyroid hormone medication.
- A 2003 study done in the Ukraine showed that Red Light Therapy can decrease thyroid medication needs by 50-75% in people with postsurgical hypothyroidism.
- A 2010 Russian dissertation study gave Red Light Therapy on the thyroid gland to a group of people with hypothyroidism and found that 17% of people could completely get off thyroid medication and 38% could decrease the dose by 25-50μ
- A 2014 study used the light therapy for 10 sessions with 347 women with subclinical hypothyroidism. At baseline, the average TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) was 9.1 mIU/L. (Note: Higher TSH is a sign of hypothyroidism). After ten sessions of light therapy, the TSH was normalized in 337 (97%) of these women. Their TSH averaged at 2.2 mIU/L after just 10 light treatments.
Red and near-infrared light therapy is highly effective in treating chronic inflammation. Since chronic inflammation is now being recognized as a major contributor to most chronic diseases from heart disease, depression, and cancer, to Alzheimer’s and chronic fatigue syndrome, this effect of Red-Light Therapy on inflammation is a very big deal. Many aging scientists now speak of "inflammaging" — the concept that the genes and pathways that control inflammation may very well be the key drivers of aging and disease.
Studies have even shown that red/NIR light therapy can have anti-inflammatory effects on par with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),149 which are the anti-inflammatory drugs routinely prescribed and typically, the over-the-counter drugs people buy when in pain.
A 2009 study took 10 patients with a history of major depression and anxiety (including PTSD and drug abuse) and gave them four weeks of treatments to the forehead with red/NIR light. Remarkably, by the end of the four-week study, 6 out of 10 patients experienced a remission of their depression, and 7 out of 10 patients experienced a remission of their anxiety.
Though further research is needed, there have been 10 studies so far on the use of red and near-infrared light therapy to treat depression and anxiety related disorders with 9 of 10 studies yielding very positive results.
In studies, researchers have found that transcranial near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy profoundly benefits the brain and cognitive performance. Research has also shown that transcranial near-infrared stimulation has been found to increase neurocognitive function in young healthy adults, finding that it improved sustained attention and short-term memory retrieval in young adults, and improved memory in older adults with significant memory impairment at risk for cognitive decline.
Another study found near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy also increased executive cognitive function in young healthy adults, providing hope that further studies find that near-infrared and Red Light Therapy may provide a hopeful treatment in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, as well as prevention.
One of the most common uses for red and near-infrared therapy in clinics is for injuries and tendonitis. Because red light stimulates collagen production, speeds wound healing, and is highly anti-inflammatory, it has been shown to bring great relief to people suffering from tendinopathy and tendonitis.
A systematic review of the research concludes that near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy has proven highly effective in treating tendon disorders in all 12 studies conducted.
Numerous studies have shown that near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy can profoundly help people with osteoarthritis (often called just "arthritis").
Red light therapy and near-infrared light therapy have proven to have numerous benefits for oral health and research in this area is booming right now. So far, studies indicate promising results for near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy, which has been shown to:
- Combat viral and bacterial infections of the mouth (tonsillitis, herpes, cold sores).
- Facilitate tooth growth/tooth movement and reduce pain for individuals with corrective braces.
- Help diabetics with gum problems and periodontal disease.
Here are several conditions where red/NIR light has proven effective:
- Chronic neck pain
- Knee pain
- Low back pain
- Chronic pain in the elbow, wrist and fingers
- Chronic joint disorders
- Sacroiliac joint pain
- Chronic tooth pain
- Osteoarthritic pain
- Tendinitis and myofascial pain
In a recent systematic review, researchers concluded that Red Light Therapy has proven "beneficial for many individuals suffering from pain, regardless of the condition that is causing it."
Several studies have found that red/NIR light can increase melatonin and provide dramatic sleep benefits to people with insomnia.
- The first documented use of a similar Red-Light Therapy device to directly observe melatonin level was conducted by Xu C et al in 2001. They treated 38 subjects that had insomnia with intranasal low-level laser therapy once a day over 10 days. They found that serum melatonin had increased.
- The same group of researchers further treated another group of 128 patients with insomnia and found that the polysomnogram (sleep study that includes data on brain waves as electrical activity) data had improved.
- In 2006, Wang F et al reported that they had treated 50 patients with insomnia. Each session was conducted once a day over between 10 to 14 days. They found that the condition had improved significantly in 41 (82%) of the cases, mild for 4 (8%) of the cases, and none for 5 (10%) of the cases.
- Chen YM et al tested 90 patients and found that 78% of the patients experienced significant improvement, 20% mild and 2% none.
Recent studies have now found that near-infrared and Red-Light Therapy may significantly slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.309,310 Red and near-infrared light have been shown to:
- Benefit cognitive performance and memory
- Improved mitochondrial function of brain cells
- Have a protective effect on neurons
- Improve cellular repair of neurons
- Increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF)
- Decrease brain inflammation (decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines and increased anti-inflammatory cytokines)
Red/NIR light with exercise makes a potent combination. Not only does red/NIR light help you recover faster, it seems to amplify everything that happens with exercise – increased muscle gain, fat loss, performance, strength, and endurance.
How does red and near-infrared light affect muscles – what is it doing to cause these benefits? It works through several important mechanisms in the body:
- Red and near-infrared light help promote the production of internal antioxidants by your cells, which prevents oxidative stress and damage to the muscle tissue (when light is applied before exercise).
- Red and near-infrared light help reduce inflammation that will lead to cellular damage (and fatigue) in the muscle tissue as well.
- Protect damaged muscles from secondar damage from further exercise.
- Pre-conditioning: By using the light prior to exercise, it creates a “pre-conditioning” effect where the muscle cells suffer less damage from the exercise, as well as display higher strength/stamina in subsequent exercise following the initial bout of exercise.
- Red and near-infrared light decrease lactic acid production by muscles.
- Red and near-infrared light improve mitochondrial function during exercise.
- Increases acetylcholine receptors on muscles (this is the neurotransmitter released from nerve cells that stimulates muscle contraction).
- Red and near-infrared light increase the production of specific types of heat shock proteins that protect cells from oxidative damage, stress, and apoptosis (early cell death).
- Red and near-infrared light also enhance muscle growth, as well as increasing strength significantly.
- Red and near-infrared light therapy promotes the development of muscle stem cells, myosatellite cells, which develop into specific varying types of muscles.
- Red and near-infrared light also have the profound benefit of increasing mitochondrial adaptations and mitochondrial biogenesis (the creation of new mitochondria) following exercise.
In studies, near-infrared and Red Light Therapy have helped shave an entire 3.5 to 5.17 inches off waist and hip circumference by reducing the fat mass layer in just four weeks of use.
In another study of 86 individuals using Red Light Therapy at 635 nm for 20 minutes every other day for two weeks, study participants lost 2.99 inches across all body parts — yes, 3 inches — in just 14 days of Red Light Therapy.
Where red/NIR light therapy really shine is when combined with exercise. Some research shows that near-infrared light therapy can dramatically enhance — nearly double — fat loss from exercise, as compared to people doing just the exercise routine without the NIR light therapy.
Identifying Therapeutic Wavelengths that Achieve Real Results
When choosing the right near-infrared and red-light therapy light device, you want to select a one that’s long-lasting, has a great warranty, is well-manufactured, and most importantly, one that offers the correct wavelengths at the right power density over a large area. Wavelength and intensity make all the difference between incredible benefits and no benefits.
Again, not all wavelengths are equal — nor are all devices. Look for wavelengths in the proven therapeutic ranges.
The bulk of research indicates the following wavelength are the most effective:
- 630-680nm (the optimal healing spectrum of red light)
- 800 to 880nm (the optimal healing spectrum of near-infrared)
- IDEALLY a combination of both