Red Light Therapy: What is it, and How Does it Work?
Light therapy is among the earliest recorded healing modalities. Solar therapy was first used by the Egyptians, and forms of light therapy were also practised by the ancient Greeks, Chinese and Indians.
At the Brain Training Centre, we offer two forms of photobiomodulation. The first is the Platinum LED Therapy Light panel, which is described below. This option is good for conditions like fatigue, muscle soreness, skin issues, inflammation, etc. The second option we offer is the VieLight intranasal PBM device, which specifically targets the brain to help with issues like Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), etc. The following information describing the mechanisms involved in PBM comes from the Platinum LED and VieLight websites. Please visit these sites to find some for the published research supporting this new technology.
Photobiology is the study of the effects of non-ionizing radiation on biological systems. The biological effect varies with the wavelength region of the radiation. The radiation is absorbed by molecules in skin such as DNA, protein or certain drugs. The molecules are changed chemically into products that initiate biochemical responses in the cells.
Biological reaction to light is nothing new, there are numerous examples of light induced photochemical reactions in biological systems. Vitamin D synthesis in our skin is an example of a photochemical reaction. The power density of sunlight is only 105 mW/cm2 yet when ultraviolet B (UVB) rays strikes our skin, it converts a universally present form of cholesterol, 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3. We normally experience this through our eyes which are obviously photosensitive. Our vision is based upon light hitting our retinas and creating a chemical reaction that allows us to see. Throughout the course of evolution, photons have played a vital role in photo-chemically energizing certain cells.
Understanding Red Light Wavelengths
All light falls along a spectrum of wavelengths. Red and infrared light that falls within the wavelength range of 650-850 nm is extremely beneficial, and often referred to as the “therapeutic window”. These wavelengths of light are bioactive in humans, and affect the function of our cells.
Red light emits wavelengths of between 620-700 nm. All red light wavelengths are effective and offer health benefits, although certain wavelengths are more powerful than others--particularly those that fall between 630-680nm. Visible red light within this range can penetrate deep into the skin, offering rejuvenating and balancing outcomes for a range of health conditions.
Sunlight includes a component of red light; it is this light wavelength that contributes to the enhanced sense of well-being we experience after a few hours outdoors. Red light therapy devices harness the regenerative healing red light wavelengths, without the more problematic UVA and UVB light rays that can cause skin cancer and premature ageing.
Understanding how red light therapy works
Red light therapy, therefore, is the therapeutic science of utilizing red and infrared light wavelengths to assist with the treatment of health conditions, and promote general well-being. You may have also heard of red light therapy referred to by other names, such as:
Low level light therapy (LLLT)
Soft laser therapy
Low-power laser therapy
Cold laser therapy
Photobiomodulation therapy is defined as the utilization of non-ionizing electromagnetic energy to trigger photochemical changes within cellular structures that are receptive to photons. Mitochondria is particularly receptive to this process. At the cellular level, visible red and near infrared light (NIR) energy are absorbed by mitochondria, which perform the function of producing cellular energy called “ATP”. The key to this entire process is a mitochondrial enzyme called cytochrome oxidase c, a chromophore, which accepts photonic energy of specific wavelengths when functioning below par.
During a red light therapy treatment, chromophores within our cellular mitochondria absorb red and infrared light photons, and convert them into energy. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells, responsible for making adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s form of energy, and enhancing the consumption of oxygen.
Once this red light energy has been absorbed by the body, it is then used by the cells to build new proteins such as collagen and elastin, and assist with cellular regeneration. Red light give cells a helping hand, ensuring mitochondria reaches its potential by providing it with a full tank of fuel which results in optimal performance for the organism.
You could compare the process to photosynthesis, where plants absorb sunlight and convert it into complex molecules. In red light therapy, we absorb the energy of the red light photons to enhance our cellular potential, promote oxygen utilization within the cell, and generate ATP, or cellular fuel.
There’s nothing mystical or new-agey about it--the process by which red light transforms bodily tissue at a cellular level has been scientifically proven. Improving the performance of mitochondria in the body improves the body’s overall performance and health.
The current and widely accepted proposal is that low level visible red to near infrared light (NIR) energy is absorbed by mitochondria and converted into ATP for cellular use. In addition, the process creates mild oxidants (ROS), which leads to gene transcription and then to cellular repair and healing. The process also unclogs the chain that has been clogged by nitric oxide (NO). The nitric oxide is then released back into the system. Nitric oxide is a molecule that our body produces to help its 50 trillion cells communicate with each other. This communication happens by transmission of signals throughout the entire body. Additionally, nitric oxide helps to dilate the blood vessels and improve blood circulation.
Understanding near infrared (NIR) light wavelengths
While visible red light constitutes one half of red light therapy, near infrared light (NIR) constitutes the other half. Near infrared light (NIR) sits just above the visible light spectrum, with wavelengths ranging from 700 nm to over 1,100 nm. Similar to red light, not all wavelengths within this range are equally effective with respect to healing: wavelengths between 800-880 nm appear to offer the greatest therapeutic benefits.
The body absorbs NIR light in the same way as visible red light, via chromophores in our cells. Following absorption, a range of healing metabolic processes are stimulated, promoting healing and regeneration.
However, there is one significant difference between red and near infrared light: near infrared light is able to penetrate deeper into the body’s tissue, because its wavelengths are longer.
Red light therapy devices that combine both red light and near infrared light offer potent healing potential because they incorporate a range of therapeutic wavelengths. These wavelengths can target diverse issues. For example, red light wavelengths can penetrate to the depth of the skin, promoting collagen production and healing wounds, while near infrared light is able to penetrate deeper into the body’s tissue to more successfully target deep wounds, muscle, or joint pain.
At the Brain Training Centre, we use PlatinumLED therapy light devices which utilise a combination of red 660nm and near-infrared 850m light for optimal therapeutic benefits.
How does red light therapy help mitigate the effects of stress, illness or injury?
When we are unwell, stressed, or injured, the ability of cellular mitochondria to function at full capacity becomes impaired. In the fast-paced, stress-saturated context of the modern world, most of us are uncomfortably aware of the effects of constant tension on our skin--sleepless nights and tight deadlines lead us to look worn out, haggard, and older than our actual age. Cosmetic treatments can only provide a superficial fix for what is, in essence, a problem that originates within our cells.
When we are stressed or ill, mitochondria begin to produce excess nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is problematic because it interferes the consumption of oxygen within the cell, leading to oxidative stress, and ultimately, ceasing the production of ATP, the cell’s source of fuel. The cell may die as a result.
Red and near infrared light (delivered within the optimal wavelengths and energy levels) protect the cell from the damage that nitric oxide can cause. The disruptive potential of nitric oxide is minimized by the absorption of red light photons, allowing the cell to continue effectively utilizing oxygen and creating ATP. Only red-light therapy can reach all the way into cell’s mitochondria to stimulate healing and regeneration, improving appearance, performance, and overall well-being.
Near-infrared light (NIR) stimulates mitochondrial respiration in neurons by donating photons that are absorbed by cytochrome oxidase. This is a bioenergetics process called photoneuromodulation in nervous tissue. The absorption of luminous energy by the enzyme results in increased brain cytochrome oxidase enzymatic activity and oxygen consumption. Since the enzymatic reaction catalyzed by cytochrome oxidase is the reduction of oxygen to water, acceleration of cytochrome oxidase catalytic activity directly causes an increase in cellular oxygen consumption. Increased oxygen consumption by nerve cells is coupled to oxidative phosphorylation. Hence, ATP production increases as a consequence of the metabolic action of near-infrared light. This type of luminous energy can enter brain mitochondria transcranially, and — independently of the electrons derived from food substrates — it can directly photostimulate cytochrome oxidase activity.
Mechanisms of Brain Photobiomodulation
“Low-energy photon irradiation in the near-IR spectral range with low-energy lasers or LEDs positively modulates various important biological processes in cell culture and animal models. Photobiomodulation is applied clinically in the treatment of soft tissue injuries and accelerated wound healing. The mechanism of photobiomodulation by red to near-IR light at the cellular level has been ascribed by research institutions to the activation of cellular mitochondrial respiratory chain components, resulting in a signaling cascade that promotes cellular proliferation and cytoprotection.
Research indicates that cytochrome c oxidase is a key photo-acceptor of irradiation in the far-red to near-IR spectral range. Cytochrome c oxidase is an integral membrane protein that contains multiple redox active metal centers. Additionally, it has a strong absorbency in the far-red to near-IR spectral range detectable in-vivo by near-IR spectroscopy.
Additionally, photobiomodulation increases the rate of electron transfer in purified cytochrome oxidase, increasing mitochondrial respiration and ATP synthesis in isolated mitochondria, and up-regulating cytochrome oxidase activity in cultured neuronal cells – leading to neuroprotective effects and improved neuronal function.
In addition to increased oxidative metabolism, red to near-IR light stimulation of mitochondrial electron transfer is known to increase the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS functions as signalling molecules, providing communication between mitochondria and the nucleus."
Neurons contain mitochondria.
The process of utilizing the non-ionizing electromagnetic energy (light) to energize neuronal mitochondria triggers a cascade of beneficial cellular events. Some potential effects are:
Electromagnetic radiation within the NIR range carries the most potent form of photonic diffusion through tissue, blood and brain. In the entire electromagnetic spectrum, the 810 nm wavelength exhibits the least photonic scattering.
Furthermore, it presents good absorption by blood and water.
Clinical studies have shown that NIR light of sufficient power density is capable of diffusing transcranially. Thus, the light can penetrate through the scalp, skull and brain to depths of 4 cm or more. Furthermore, the NIR light can also diffuse intranasally, through the nasal channel.
Photobiomodulation can be used on its own or in conjunction with neuromodulation techniques.
By combining approaches the brain is able to train more effectively as PBM reduces neuroinflammation and increases ATP production. With more energy at their disposal, neurons are able to respond to stimuli faster and more frequently. This assists in learning, which is the very aim of neurofeedback.
If you are interested in trying photobiomodulation on its own or in conjunction with neurofeedback,
please contact the Brain Training Centre today.