In a hurry, read the article summary here:
Types of light that you need for good health are blue, UV, far infrared, red, near infrared.
Human cells need light to function.
Red and NIR light are superior because they penetrate the tissues, blood vessels, nerves, brain, and bones.
Red and NIR feed your cells to increase energy production and boost the anti-inflammatory actions of cells.
Health benefits include: helps with thyroid function, liver regeneration, hot flashes, inflammation, sleep, depression/anxiety, skin repair, weight, hair re-regrowth, wound healing, pain
Types of Light
You have probably heard about the different types of light such as UV light, infrared or perhaps blue light. If you paid attention in school, you might have remembered that light travels in waves and each wave frequency transforms it to a spectacularly different application; from radio waves to X-rays.
As you can tell from the above chart there is a wide spectrum of light and waves and only a narrow range of these rays are visible to the naked eye.
A particular part of the light spectrum called red and near infrared light (NIR) has spectacular healing powers. Its benefits and many applications are one of the biggest health discoveries of recent decades.
Yet, it is still flying under the radar of most people – the extent of the research and applications was new to me as well.
Nobel Prize and NASA application
As far back as 1903, a physical named Niels Ryberg Finsen won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for successfully treating lupus and smallpox with red light.
The biggest leaps forward into research of red and NIR light therapy began in 1993 when NASA was looking at ways to boost the health of astronauts in space. Their studies found that red and NIR therapy helped to limit the loss of bone and muscle for astronauts.
These findings led to hundreds of more studies showing the benefits of light therapy using this wavelength – more on this below.
The Healing Properties of Light
We all know that light can impact our health from a sunburn sustained after staying too long on the beach. What you may not know is that light actually enters human cells. Some colors of the light spectrum omit different energy frequencies which impact more than your skin and can alter everything from the immune system, energy, brain activity, to blood pressure.
The five main bioactive types of light that you need for good health come from different parts of the light spectrum and include:
#1 Blue: Emitted from many electronic devices such as phone or computer screens, this light affects your body clock (or circadian rhythm) by interfering with melatonin production, hence interfering with your sleep. This is why powering down all your electronics before bed can improve your sleep quality.
#2 Ultraviolet (UV): Ultraviolet light is important because it helps us make vitamin D in the skin from sunlight.
#3 Far Infrared: Is what makes you feel the heat when you are in sunlight. It heats up your cells too, which causes changes to your cell function and circulation. Some IR saunas use far infrared to help you sweat.
#4 Red light: Affects the function of the mitochondria, which are the powerhouse of your cells.
#5 Near Infrared (NIR): Like red light acts on the mitochondria of your cells and helps to increase cellular energy production.
As you can see, the penetration levels of the various lights vary. Red light and NIR have the deepest penetration levels.
Differences Between Red and NIR Light
As they have different wavelengths, these two forms of light therapy affect the body at different depths:
#1 Red Light: Unlike Ultraviolent (UV) light, red light is visible and occupies what’s known as the “long end” of the visible spectrum with wavelengths of 630nm-700nm penetration into the skin.
#2 Near Infrared Light: Sits right next to red on the electromagnetic light spectrum. It is invisible and penetrates further than red light; it enters the skin but also goes another 1.5 inches into the body at around 800nm to 1 millimeter of penetration.
How Does Red and NIR Light Therapy Work
While many wavelengths of light, such as UV, blue, green and yellow are not able to penetrate very far into the layers of your skin, red and NIR light has far deeper reach. This means that it is able to be more deeply absorbed into your tissues, blood vessels, nerves, brain, and bones.
These wavelengths of light also have a particular impact at a cellular level. Just as plants absorb sunlight through their leaves and the light undergoes photosynthesis to convert it into chemical energy, red and NIR light, enter the body via the skin and are then absorbed into your cells.
Once inside your cells, red and NIR light “feeds” your cells to increase:
#1 Energy production: They increase the production of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). This is the primary energy carrier in all living organisms on earth and it is used to fuel every function in your body, from each breath and heartbeat to every step you take. ATP increases the energy production of your mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of all cells and produces most of the energy that a cell needs to survive and thrive.
The mechanism behind it is most likely attributed to nitric oxide (NO). As much as NO plays a vital role in the body, the issue is balance; when there is too much of it or if it’s in the wrong places, it hinders the cells’ ability to produce ATP.
#2 Anti-inflammatory: Interestingly, red and NIR light therapy create a temporary, low-dose metabolic stress (also called “hormesis”), which is exactly what happens when we exercise. In other words, red and NIR “exercise” the cells to better health which results in a boost to the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of cells. This is how users of red and NIR therapy experience boosts in cellular health and function, immunity, wound healing, reducing inflammation and improving cell regeneration.
Health Benefits of Red and NIR Light
The list of benefits is long and well documented. Red and NIR light do more than just impact a few enzymes, compounds, or receptors in the body.
Here is the list of these benefits. This is not an exhaustive list.
#1 Improves thyroid function and lowers TPOab in Hashimoto’s patients
Reduction in Hashimoto’s TPO antibodies by 39% and dosage of thyroid replacement medication.
Decrease medication requirements by 50-75% in people with postsurgical hypothyroidism. Antibodies for Tg and TPO were decreased after the treatment.
This study showed that in a group of patients the TSH averaged at 9.1 mIU/L, after ten sessions of light therapy, the TSH was normalized in 97% of these women and averaged 2.2 mIU/L.
#2 Helps with liver regeneration
Liver health is paramount to keeping and restoring good hormonal balance, especially when it comes to thyroid and estrogen issues.
#3 Reduces hot flashes
A European study showed that women who were undergoing estrogen therapy due to breast cancer developed significant hot flashes and night sweats – the red light therapy has helped to reduce the intensity of the hot flashes.
#4 Lowers inflammation and chronic conditions
Inflammation is now recognized as the leading cause of chronic conditions such as autoimmunity, cardiovascular conditions, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and chronic fatigue. This study shows how red light and NIR have an all-around anti-inflammatory effect.
#5 Helps with sleep
An NIH Study found that red and NIR light therapy helped with the increase in melatonin production.
Another NIH Study demonstrated that an internasal application of red light at night (and blue light in the morning), helped with the quality of sleep.
#6 Improves depression and anxiety
Ten patients with a history of major depression and anxiety (including PTSD and drug abuse) underwent four weeks of treatments to the forehead with red and NIR light. Remarkably, by the end, 6 out of 10 patients experienced a remission of their depression, and 7 out of 10 patients experienced a remission of their anxiety.
#7 Reverses skin aging and speeds up skin repair
Reduce signs of damage, DNA damage, and aging from UV rays (1)
Reduce wrinkles (2)
Reduce color patches, hyperpigmentation, and skin discoloration (3)
Enhance collagen synthesis and collagen density (research has shown it can enhance production of collagen by 31%) (4)
Accelerate repair in the epithelial layer of the skin (5)
Combat other skin conditions like acne, keloids, vitiligo, burns, herpes virus sores, and psoriasis (6)
Speed wound healing by enhancing skin tissue repair and growth of skin cells (7)
#8 Helps with healthy weight
Having weight issues, especially experiencing weight loss resistance, is multi-factorial and I am not saying that red light will be your miracle tool. If a person is eating a highly inflammatory diet, is toxic, and chronically stressed, red light therapy can only go so far. However, when combined with other healthy initiatives (diet and movement), red and NIR light therapy shows some promising results. This is probably also due to the anti-inflammatory effect the light therapy has on the body.
#10 Reduces cellulite and improves skin tone
When red and NIR light therapy is combined with massage, it led to an astounding 71% reduction in cellulite, according to an NIH study.
Another study found that “91% of subjects reported improved skin tone, and 82% reported enhanced smoothness of skin in the treatment area.”
#11 Helps hair re-growth
A number of studies have shown an encouraging re-growth of hair in both men and women.
#12 Speeds up wound healing
This is one application I’ve heard many of my chiropractic friends rave about in their practices – how much quicker healing happens with red and NIR light therapy. There is countless research to back it up.
#13 Decreases pain, symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue
Lower back pain
Knee and neck pain.
Fibromyalgia – An impressive body of research is showing that red and NIR light therapy can help fibromyalgia patients: “Our study suggests that laser therapy is effective on pain, muscle spasm, morning stiffness, and total tender point number in fibromyalgia and suggests that this therapy method is a safe and effective way of treatment in the cases with fibromyalgia.”
#14 Regenerates stem cells
You will hear plenty more about stem cells in the coming years as it’s a revolutionary and quickly growing part of medicine. NIH published studies showed how stem cells get regenerated in heart patients in the presence of red light therapy.
Are you as impressed as I am? I’m also surprised that this form of therapy is not more widely available.
Comparison of Red and NIR Products
For decades, expensive laser devices called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or “cold laser” were the only options for people who wanted to undergo light therapy. These medical-grade machines were used in doctor’s offices, health spas or anti-aging clinics. This meant that people could only afford one-off treatments or paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for ongoing treatments.
According to one of the leading experts in the field, Harvard researcher Michael Hamblin, “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.”
This is very good news. It means you can enjoy all of the benefits of red light therapy delivered by a more affordable and easily accessible device that you use in the comfort of your home.
For product recommendation, we based our product research on these criteria:
#1 Wavelength range: This is the penetration of both red and NIR light, so you can gain the healing benefits of both. 630-680nm is the optimal healing spectrum of red light and 800 to 880nm is the optimal healing spectrum of near-infrared. Optimally, a device should offer both of them.
#2 Size: Small devices only irradiate a small percentage of your body; to get a full body benefit, you would need to apply the light to several areas which is time wasteful and inconvenient. A larger device helps cover most of the body.
#3 Power density and depth penetration: This is calculated based on the wattage of the light and the treatment area. For truly therapeutic benefits, you want the power density to be at least 30mW/cm2 for longer range (2 to 3 feet) or around 100mW/cm2 from close range (about 6 inches).
#4 Number of LEDs: LED stands for Light-emitting diodes – the more the better the treatment.
#5 EMF: The level of EMF emission.
#6 Price: If it’s affordable for a home buyer.
Disclaimers and considerations: The information on this page is meant to educate readers about the science, research, and health benefits of red light therapy. Consult a trusted health professional for the diagnosis and treatment of specific medical conditions.
These Red/NIR light therapy products are registered with the FDA as class II medical devices for the treatment of pain, strain, and inflammation. Other health benefits mentioned in this article are for educational purposes only and not intended to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices, and not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease. The information presented is based on peer-reviewed clinical research, including information about emerging studies and scientific inquiries.
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