Benefits of Infrared Light
Before you can appreciate the benefits you have to have a baseline understanding of how Infrared works on our body. Treatment with infrared or any other type of light is called Photobiomodulation Therapy (PBM), sometimes in published studies they will also refer to light therapy as Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT). (2) PBM has been studied for its effectiveness in over 90 different medical indications, and it can be found by clicking here. It is taken from the published article, Titled “Photobiomodulation: Lasters vs Light Emitting Diodes?” that was published in 2018 by Vladimir Heiskanen and Michael R. Hamblin. Which is a great review on how and why PBM works and the current studies surrounding this field. To date, there are 142 different studies looking at the effectiveness of PBM, these can be viewed here on the ClinicalTrials.gov website which shows both active and studies that have been approved and recruiting participants.
But how does the Infrared wavelength give us all of these benefits?!
It has been proven that many of the components in our cells will absorb and respond to various wavelengths of light. (2) With in our cells there are structures that are able to accept various wavelengths and they are called photoacceptors. (2) There is evidence that the primary receptor in our cells for interacting with light are Cytochrome C Oxidase (CCO). which exists on our mitochondria. (3) This enzyme is important in the energy production in our cells and specific wavelengths from red light and near-Infrared light can increase ATP production. ATP is the energy currency in all of our cells and it is what keeps us alive and all of our cells working!
PBM has also been shown to be a powerful antioxidant for our cells and body. PBM has been shown to activate a specific enzyme called Superoxide dismutase (SOD). (4) This enzyme plays a key role in decreasing the free radicals that occur in our body. This decreases inflammation and is one of the reasons why PBM works great to help with pain. PBM has also been shown to decrease muscle soreness due to decreasing lactic acid conversion and subsequent build up in muscles. (4)
*The FDA has not approved Infrared/Red light therapy for the treatment, cure or prevention of any of these described conditions, symptoms, alignments or diseases*
Can Red Light Therapy Help With Arthritis And Pain?
Photobiomodulation (light therapy) has been shown to have positive effects on many different pain conditions such as: Carpal tunnel syndrome, (6) TMJ, (7) Neck Pain (8) and neuropathic pain due to amputation. (9) One of the biggest targets in treating pain is to decrease the inflammation. Multiple studies have shown that Infrared light therapy decreases inflammatory markers in our body, which can lead to decreased pain. (10) The name of the game for pain and overall health is to decrease our inflammation. Have you ever known someone who is a chronic smoker or drinker? A lot of times they look older than they really are, because we are not our age stated in years; but our age x inflammation. The more inflammation you have the quicker you age and worse health outcomes you will have. PBM has been shown to decrease the inflammation experienced by our body and can help us live a healthier life.
Can Red Light Therapy Help With Sleep And Energy?
It's no secret, sleep is the biggest life hack! If you want to increase both your physical and mental performance you not only need sleep, but good restful sleep. Poor sleep quality is one of the biggest medical issues facing our time. As we are ever connected to our devices and have a tough time shutting down; our sleep is suffering. Its not just that you feel tired in the morning, but it also disrupts our hormones and natural healing patterns. When low sleep quality is Combined with our typical Western Diet and lifestyle, we have a recipe for consistently high levels of cortisol and epinephrine. Both are beneficial and you can live without them, but normally they rise and fall throughout the day based on our Circadian Rhythm and in response to both physical and psychological stressors. Our poor sleep and lifestyle habits have been shown to increase our chances of developing certain types of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and probably more issues that will be discovered in the future.
The blue lights from our electronics and lights are stimulating and if used too close to bed can decrease the production of melatonin, which is our sleep hormone and important to regulating our Circadian Rhythm. You can read the article published by Harvard Medical School regarding blue light and how it affects our sleep, here.
Multiple studies have shown that Red light therapy before bed can increase your melatonin production and increase your quality of sleep. One study looked at professional female Chinese basketball players. The group that received red light therapy for 30 minutes prior to bed for 2 weeks had a 75% increase in melatonin production in their blood. The players obviously reported an increase in their sleep quality, but also reported an increase in their endurance on the court. The study can be found here.
Does Red Light Therapy Help with Anti-Aging and Skin Health?
As Red and Infrared Light therapy continues to gain attention, it should be pointed out that Dermatologists have been touting the benefits of Red and Infrared light therapy for years. They have been using it on their patients with acne to help clear up their skin. They also have found that it helps to tighten the skin by increasing the production of collagen from the cells in our body called fibroblasts. As we age our production of collagen decreases and this contributes to the “sagging skin” as we experience as we get older. There are various other treatments that are utilized in dermatology besides Red Light Therapy that aim to increase collagen production and they include: Microneedling, PRP injections and Facials and topical serums and creams. They all aim to “tighten” our skin and one of the ways this is accomplished is through the increased production of collagen. It also can activate different types of genes and their expression in our cells along with increasing the availability of energy in our cells by increasing the production of ATP. One of the best reasons to use Red Light therapy is for the antioxidant effects and this is a big benefit for our skin. You can just take a look at a friend or acquaintance that is a chronic smoker and look how aged their skin looks! The increased inflammation plays a number on our skin. That's why it is said healthy skin is made from the inside out, the healthier you are with your diet and avoid inflammation through smoking, alcohol or sugar intake the healthier you skin will look and feel. A very detailed review about how Low Level Laser Therapy can help skin and anti aging can be read here and another study can be read here regarding mechanism of action for photobiomodulation (Red Light Therapy).
Can Red Light Therapy increase Recovery From Training?
Red light and Infrared light therapy can assist your body’s natural healing and repairing mechanisms after a hard training session every muscle cell has a mitochondria (remember highschool biology- the powerhouse of the cell) and the mitochondria plays a large role in activity and recovery. As we discussed above, the mitochondria responds very well to Infrared light therapy and will increase its production of energy, ATP. This will lead to an increase in recovery as our cells expend a lot of energy repairing after a workout. Also a large part of post workout recovery is the inflammation associated with creating small tears in our muscles and the lactic acid that is produced from working out. If we are able to decrease the inflammation we will be able to heal quicker and more efficiently. One of the many studies describing this can be found, here.
Does Red Light Therapy Help With Sports Performance?
PBM or the use of red or infrared light has been shown to increase performance in athletes. This study found that when PBM was used prior to exercise or after exercise for recovery, both produced an increase in performance. This review looked at 1045 participants and found that PBM increased muscle mass and decreased inflammation and cellular stress- this was confirmed with muscle biopsies. The full study can be found here.
Can Red Light Therapy Help With Depression?
Depression is on the rise with all of the current events and people feeling more isolated and out of their normal routines. The thought with transcranial photobiomodulation (t-PBM) is that it will stimulate the mitochondria in the cerebral cortex producing more energy for our neurons and also increasing blood flow. Although there still needs to be more larger human studies, the preliminary data does show benefit as PBM is likely safe and easy to administer. The entire review article can be found here.
Does Red Light Therapy Help Hair Growth?
The FDA has cleared Red and Infrared Light therapy for hair growth. There are multiple devices on the market right now and most of them resemble a baseball hat that has the Infrared and Red lights inside. How does it help? If you have learned anything yet, its all about inflammation and blood flow! Red and Infrared Light will increase blood flow and decrease inflammation around the hair follicles and allow for more blood flow and healthy nutrients to be delivered to the hair follicles to assist in the growth of hair. A study in 2013 looked at low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and its effectiveness in hair growth and found that it is both safe and effective for the growth of hair in both Men and Women.
How Can Red Light Therapy Help Blood flow?
Red light and Infrared light therapy has been shown to increase nitric oxide production. (10) Nitric oxide is one of the body’s most potent vasodilators- meaning that it is able to open up our arteries and veins. This can increase blood flow and decrease the workload on the heart. Increasing blood flow also increases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to our cells and muscles.