The Science

Red Light Therapy is the medical use of light technology to penetrate visible and invisible light wavelengths deep into the human body, which promotes the body’s natural healing processes. Both visible red light and invisible near infrared light are proved to be highly absorbable in living tissues, and produce unique detoxing therapeutic effects. Between them, they can create more than twenty positive changes at a cellular level to restore normal, healthy cell activity that might have been disrupted by injury or illness.

Known as photobiomodulation, it is the use of low levels of red or near infrared light for delivering energy to the cells. The many other names for Red Light Therapy include low-level laser therapy (LLLT), low intensity light therapy (LILT), phototherapy, photobiostimulation, biostimulation (BIOS), photonic stimulation, photomedicine, cold lasers, among others.

A Brief History

 

The therapeutic properties of light have been used as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who treated various ailments using solariums fitted with coloured glass. In 1910, John Harvey Kellog published a book called Light Therapeutics, which outlined the many benefits of light therapy using incandescent light bulbs and arc lights.

The invention of laser (light amplification by stimulated emission by radiation) in 1960 by American Physicist Theodore H Maiman; scientists and physicians began to use lasers to deliver therapeutic levels of light. One such physician and surgeon was Hungarian Endre Mester (1903-1984), who discovered that a low-level ruby laser light could regrow hair and accelerate the healing process in mice. Dr Mester subsequently founded the Laser Research Center at the Semmelweiss Medical University in Budapest in 1974.

Cellular Activation by Light Wavelengths

 

Red light (measured in nanometers, nm) ranges from about 600nm – 700nm and near infrared light is in the range of 700nm – 1400nm on the electromagnetic spectrum. Red and infrared light have very similar physiological effects, the main difference being that infrared light penetrates deeper into the body, allowing its healing frequencies to reach more cells naturally into the body’s bones and organs. A combination of red and infrared light has been found to be ideal for the broadest range of detoxing therapeutic applications.

Just like plants depend on sunlight to flourish, the human body is dependent on light for its health and wellbeing. Sunlight (made of UV light, visible light and infrared light) encourages the human body to produce hormones that are directly responsible for improving mood, producing essential vitamins, and creating wellbeing. Red light is especially beneficial to us, and is delivered in the form of photons, penetrating and stimulating the photoreceptors of damaged cells. This effectively jump-starts and accelerates the healing process.

Over the past 100 years, and with a rapid increase in research in the last 20 years, red and infrared light therapies have been studied extensively on humans and animals for dozens of diseases and conditions and found to be safe and have efficacy. Since the cellular metabolic process for humans and other creatures are similar, the observed health benefits are often similar or uniform among different species.

Research 
shows that red and infrared
 light waves penetrate into the body’s cells and boosts cellular energy 
metabolism by activating the enzyme 
complex called cytochrome c oxidase, and frees the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)[i]. A series of metabolic events occurs as a result, including:

  • The formation of new capillaries
  • Increased collagen production
  • Increased carbon dioxide production
  • Improved oxygenation
  • Increased blood flow
  • Reduced free radicals and oxidative stress
  • Reduced and protection from further inflammation

Lasers vs LEDs

 

Previously it was believed that only red coloured lasers exhibited healing effects, however, it has been since well established that far less expensive LEDs (light emitting diodes) can also deliver the same beneficial effects. This is especially good news for the public, because it means powerful healing LED devices are available to everyone at affordable prices and can be self-administered.

As an example of what’s possible with LEDs, Dr. Harry Whelan, professor of paediatric neurology and director of hyperbaric medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has been studying red light in cell cultures and on humans for decades.  His work in the laboratory has shown that skin and muscle cells grown in cultures and exposed to LED infrared light grow 150-200% faster than control cultures not stimulated by the light.

The use of LEDs to deliver Red Light Therapy started appearing in the literature around 2001, and was driven primarily by the funding from the US-based National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) as a light source for plant growth experiments in space[ii].

A recently published article in the journal Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences, by world-leading researcher in photobiomodulation (PBM), Harvard Professor Michael Hamblin, and avid researcher/chronicler of PBM research, Vladimir Heiskanen, reviewed the lasers vs LEDs debate. They noted an important difference between laser and LED light is the bandwidth. Lasers have a very narrow bandwidth (typically a fraction of a nanometer), while diode lasers the bandwidth is typically 1-2 nm. Another is the cost per mW – as a general rule of thumb, it costs 100x less for LEDs to emit the optimal power than lasers.

Hamblin and Heiskanen also noted that one of the key factors hindering the acceptance of PBM in healthcare is cost-effectiveness. The cost per laser device plus the cost of it being administered by healthcare practitioners (physical therapists, chiropractors, nurses or physicians) in a clinical setting is too prohibitive for mass use. However, the authors conclude that the adoption of much more cost-effective LED devices, safe for unsupervised in-home use, into PBM-based treatment practices could lead to wider acceptance by the medical community and government bodies.

“Most of the early work in this field was carried out with various kinds of lasers, and it was thought that laser light had some special characteristics not possessed by light from other light sources such as sunlight, fluorescent or incandescent lamps and now LEDs. However all the studies that have been done comparing lasers to equivalent light sources with similar wavelength and power density of their emission, have found essentially no difference between them.”[1] – Professor Michael Hamblin

Treatable Conditions

 

Aches, pain, inflammation, bites, stings and wounds are the conditions that have the highest quality evidence base; the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States have assessed and approved the LED Devices for such purposes, as Class IIA medical devices.

Even with the large amount of published research papers on red and infrared light, research is ongoing and there is still much to be learned.

Pain and inflammation are primary symptoms in many chronic conditions being widely diagnosed today, including:

  • Arthritis (rheumatoid and osteoarthritis)
  • Chronic pain (explained and unexplained)
  • Joint injuries and conditions (such as tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, tendonitis, knee pain/degeneration, hip pain/degeneration, etc)
  • Sports-related injuries, recovery and performance
  • Autoimmune conditions (e.g fibromyalgia)
  • Back pain
  • Tooth Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Neuropathic Pain
  • Sacroiliac Joint Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
  • Tendinitis and Myofascial Pain

 

Beyond pain and inflammation-based, there is an ever-expanding list of conditions that Red Light Therapy can treat. We have chronicled over 130 conditions that have scientific research with mounting evidence for the use of this technology.

You can learn more about specific conditions by visiting our Blog and reading more on our Applications page.

[i]Michael R. Hamblin. “Mechanisms of low level light therapy.” Department of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School. http://photobiology.info/Hamblin.html. Accessed February 2, 2018.

[ii]Hoon Chung, Tianhong Dai, Sulbha K. Sharma, Ying-Ying Huang, James D. Carroll, and Michael R. Hamblin. The Nuts and Bolts of Low-level Laser (Light) Therapy, Ann Biomed Eng.2012 Feb; 40(2): 516–533

[iii]Whelan, H.T. et al. (2001). NAS Light Emitting Diode Medical Applications from Deep Space to Deep Sea. Space Technology and Applications International Forum, 35-25

 

 

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