Red and Near Infrared Light Therapy: Too Good to Be True
For over thirty years extensive clinical research has been conducted on the numerous health and wellness applications of red light therapy, which is a combination of visible red light and invisible near infrared wavelengths. Another term for red light therapy is photobiomodulation, or PBM. The results are almost too good to be true for people seeking a natural, non-invasive treatment for numerous health issues. Reduction of pain & inflammation, skin rejuvenation, improved sleep, muscle recovery and improved energy are among the benefits.
After researching the benefits for a few years, I purchased a unit in May and use it every day, and have had quite a few benefits. I will talk more about my experiences later in the post.
The recommended wavelengths for effective PBM are red light in the mid-600 nanometer range, and near infrared light in the mid-800 nanometer range. Don’t confuse them with far infrared units that generate heat and are used for saunas. I will talk more about them in an upcoming post.
The units can be small and targeted, or body-length for maximal coverage. There is little heat generated and no risk to overexposure. (1) The main effect is that the light helps a key enzyme involved in energy production function better. (2) If you want more details on the precise mechanism, click here. The bottom line is that the mitochondria, which are responsible for energy production in cells, become more efficient at creating ATP, our main source of energy. More energy production (for obvious reasons) can lead to weight reduction, one of the benefits of red light therapy. To back this up, many studies link PMB to weight loss and even the ever elusive spot reduction. (3,4)
PBM has been shown to decrease oxidation in the body and increases collagen (the predominant protein in bone, muscle, connective tissue and skin), which improves healing in all of these areas. (5,6) Studies also show an increase in circulation following red light therapy which brings more oxygen and nutrients important for healing, while removing toxins. (7) The increase in collagen and circulation coupled with the decrease in inflammation, oxidation, and wound healing time means healthier, more youthful skin with less wrinkles. (8) The same mechanisms are responsible for improved recovery times from intense exercise, (9,10) as well as decreased joint pain, increased mobility and improvements in arthritis symptoms. (11,12,13)
Another benefit of FBM is improved sleep. Melatonin has been called the sleep hormone. If you’re in red light before bed, you’ll produce more melatonin than if you’re surrounded by synthetic blue light, and that can help you fall and stay asleep. The wavelength of red light therapy is similar to sunrise and sunset which provide cues to you to sleep and wake at the appropriate times. (14)
The wavelengths are also capable of penetrating the skull into the brain. Due to the aforementioned mechanisms on decreased inflammation, increased blood flow, improved healing and energy production, cognitive function improvements from PMB are seen in several studies. Most notably, in older adults, and amazingly, in Alzheimer’s patients. (15,16,17,18)
I met with the inventors and owners of the company Joovv that makes my unit prior to purchase at a conference I was attending. They make several different units to meet the differing needs of their clients. They were super knowledgeable and very helpful. My main goal was improved energy and recovery from my workouts, so I chose a full body unit (for little old me) called the Quad. It is a full body unit that I stand in front of for twenty minutes each morning. Ten minutes on my back and ten on my front. Because I stand when using it, there are added benefits: working on my posture, meditating, and working on my breathing. Since I am a health maniac, I choose to purchase most of my gym/health equipment. Keep in mind that spas and gyms commonly have red light therapy available, so purchasing a unit is not always necessary.
The benefits I have experienced with red light therapy over the last four months are:
improved recovery from workouts
better wound healing
less wrinkling especially around my eyes
less bagginess under my eyes
less dryness of my eyes
improved body composition
Red light therapy increases blood flow, decreases damage from oxidation, decreases inflammation, increases energy, and boosts collagen production. The net effect of these benefits causes decreasing damage AND increasing repair to any tissue exposed to it. The lights are very safe to use and pose little to no risks. The major drawback is that the units are a “high end” item. Since I put the highest priority on feeling (and looking) good, it was definitely a worthwhile purchase.