Red Light Therapy Benefits, Research & Mechanism of Action
October 25, 2016 . published by dr Axe https://draxe.com/red-light-therapy/
Through emitting red, low-light wavelengths through the skin, red light therapy helps naturally jump-start the process of tissue recovery and other forms of rejuvenation through increased blood flow, collagen stimulation and more. 2010 marked the 50th anniversary for medical laser treatments like red light therapy, providing a host of evidence on their benefits. (1)
If you’ve never heard of red light therapy before, you might already be familiar with other terms that are used to describe this treatment, such as low level laser therapy (LLLT), biostimulation (BIOS), photonic stimulation or simply light box therapy. Red light is considered “low level” because it works at an energy density that’s low compared to other forms of laser therapies.
Red light therapies have come a long way, but do they really work? Clinical studies show that, yes, red lightbox therapies have certain healing capabilities and medical applications thanks to the way they positively affect the human endocrine and immune systems. LLLT is now FDA-approved for treating conditions like chronic joint pain and slow-to-heal wounds. In the near future, we can expect approval for many more conditions thanks to red light benefits, such as increased immunity, tissue repair, anti-aging effects, improved joints and more.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy involves having low-power red light wavelengths emitted directly through the skin, although this process cannot be felt and isn’t painful because it doesn’t produce any heat. Red light can be absorbed into the skin to a depth of about eight to 10 millimeters, at which point it has positive effects on cellular energy and multiple nervous system and metabolic processes.
Red light therapy has shown promise for treating symptoms of joint pain or osteoarthritis due to aging, those caused by cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, hair loss, wounds or incisions, acne, wrinkles and skin discoloration, chronic muscular pain, neurological damage, and tissue damage (often at the root of tears, sprains or pulls). As you’ll learn, even seeing the color red is physically stimulating, primes our senses and gets our blood pumping, so imagine what red light penetrating right into your body can do.
Although there is still controversy over this treatment and more research needed, according to the company Light Therapy Options LLC, there are virtually “no known adverse side effects” of red light therapy treatments, rather a growing list of many anti-aging benefits. (2)
Some of the ways that red light wavelengths work are: (3)
Stimulating DNA/RNA synthesis (5)
Activating the lymphatic system, an important part of our immune system that helps carry waste out of the body
Increasing blood flow/circulation, thereby helping bring more oxygen and nutrients to our cells and tissues
Forming new capillaries (small blood vessels)
Repairing and restoring damaged soft connective tissue
Stimulating or decreasing inflammation, which helps control our natural healing capabilities
Lowering effects of oxidative stress/free radical damage, which is associated with many effects of aging
5 Benefits of Red Light Therapy
1. Increased Immunity and Reduced Side Effects of Cancer Treatments
Research done by NASA in conjunction with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital has shown that red light technology can successfully reduce symptoms experienced by cancer patients, including painful side effects caused from radiation or chemotherapy. Using far red/near-infrared light-emitting diode devices (called High Emissivity Aluminiferous Luminescent Substrate, or HEALS in this case) has been shown to release long wavelength energy in the form of photons that stimulate cells to aid in healing.
NASA tested whether HEALS could treat oral mucositis in cancer patients, a very common and painful side effect of chemotherapy and radiation, and concluded that 96 percent of patients experienced improvement in pain as a result of the HEALS treatment. Patients received the light therapy by a nurse holding the WARP 75 device, which is roughly the size of an adult human hand. The WARP device was held close to the patient’s face and neck for only 88 seconds daily for 14 days. Researchers stated, “The HEALS device was well tolerated with no adverse affects to bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients….The HEALS device can provide a cost-effective therapy since the device itself is less expensive than one day at the hospital.” (6)
Similar HEALS technology is also now being utilized for the treatment of pediatric brain tumors, slow-healing wounds or infections, diabetic skin ulcers, and serious burns.
2. Wound Healing and Tissue Repair
Light in the spectral range of 600 to 1,300 nanometers has been found to be useful for promoting wound healing, tissue repair and skin rejuvenation, although it does this through a different mechanism of action compared to many other laser resurfacing treatments. Most laser therapies used in dermatology offices use intense pulsed light to promote skin rejuvenation by inducing secondary tissue repair. In other words, they cause intentional damage to either the epidermis or the dermis of the skin in order to trigger inflammation, followed by healing.
Red light therapy actually bypasses this initial destructive step and instead directly stimulates regenerative processes in the skin through increased cellular proliferation, migration and adhesion. Red light therapy has been shown to positively affect skin cells through regeneration of fibroblasts, keratinocytes and modulation of immune cells (including mast cells, neutrophils and macrophages) all found within skin tissue.
3. Anti-Aging Effects for Skin and Hair Loss
One use of red light laser therapy that’s growing in popularity is reversing signs of aging on the skin (i.e, wrinkles and fine lines). Results from a 2014 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery demonstrated both efficacy and safety for red light therapy in promoting anti-aging skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase when compared against controls. (7) Researchers concluded that red infrared therapy “provides a safe, non-ablative, non-thermal, atraumatic photobiomodulation treatment of skin tissue with high patient satisfaction rates.”
Subjects treated with red light therapy experienced significantly improved skin complexion, improved skin tone, improved texture/feeling, reduced skin roughness, reduced signs of wrinkles and fine lines, and increased collagen density as measured through ultrasonographic tests. Patients with rosaceaand redness have also found relief using LLLT, even those who are unable to tolerate higher-heat laser therapies.
Yet another anti-aging effect of red light therapy is reversing hair loss and stimulating follicle growth, which works in many of the same ways as red light therapy for wound healing. Results have been mixed according to studies, but at least a moderate portion of both male and female patients have had positive results for reversing baldness/hair loss when using LLLT. (8)
4. Improved Joint and Musculoskeletal Health
Red light therapy is now being used to treat arthritis symptoms thanks to its capability of stimulating collagen production and rebuilding cartilage. A 2009 Cochrane review of red light therapy for rheumatoid arthritis concluded 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.” (9)
Even in those who don’t suffer from arthritis but have other signs of tissue damage or degeneration due to aging, LLLT can still be beneficial. A 2009 study published in The Lancet showed, “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.” (10) Other studies have found that even when patients with musculoskeletal disorders don’t experience less pain from red light therapy treatments, they have a high chance of experiencing “significantly improved functional outcomes,” such as better range of motion. (11)
Cellular rejuvenation and increased blood flow due to red light therapy are two key aspects of improving joint and tissue health. Decreasing oxidative damage, which degenerates joints, and modulating inflammation are other ways that LLLT benefits soft/connective tissue.
5. Reduced Depression and Fatigue
Another way to explain the benefits of red light is through the lens of Eastern medicine. Ask a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner how light helps improve health, immunity and recovery, and he or she will likely compare it to acupuncture’s mechanism of action:
Light is a form of energy, and our bodies are just big energy systems. Light has the power to stimulate specific meridian points and chakrazones in the human body.
Red is said to stimulate the first chakra because it correlates most strongly with our survival instinct (hence why it gives us energy and makes us act quickly, in order to motivate us to pursue things like money, food, sex, power, etc.).
While acupuncture uses tiny needles to achieve bodily harmony through stimulating certain points in the body’s energy system, light therapy uses focused, visible, red wavelengths in much the same way.
Red light has been shown to be naturally energizing and correlated with improved moods by increasing self-confidence, positivity, passion, joyfulness, laughter, social awareness, conversation skills and sensory stimulation. While results vary from patient to patient, there’s reason to believe that LLLT has mental and emotional perks in addition to physical benefits.