Archive | May, 2019

Using light to heal

3 May

A friend recently introduced me to a product he’s selling: small dermal patches that emit light, and which cause beneficial changes in the body. I was aware of this concept years ago, when someone gave me a very clunky light-emitting device that had been useful in helping racehorses heal! They suggested I use it in my healing practice, but it proved too uncomfortable for my clients. But 25 years later, it seems we’re witnessing a revolution in medicine and the technology to make it happen (hooray!!): a revolution that uses the tools of vibration, such as light and sound, to heal. I decided to do a little research about light therapy, and I’ve learned a lot! Let me share what I’ve learned with you. Please know that in some instances I’ve used whole sentences from these websites; I hope that by including the website addresses, I’ll avoid being accused of plagiarism! I’ve started each paragraph with the source of my information, so that it’s easily accessible to you.

First, a definition of light therapy: Photobiomodulation (PBM) is the term used to describe the mechanistic/scientific basis for using light to heal; and photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) is the term for its therapeutic application. The wavelength of light used determines the depth of penetration into a tissue. Near-infrared light penetrates more deeply than shorter wavelengths of light such as red light.  One wavelength and one set of treatment parameters will not be effective for all conditions. This website reports that no negative side effects have been reported with the use of PBMT, although there are cautions for people with sensitive skin to go slowly with their exposure and monitor their skin’s reactivity.

How does PBMT work? Well, as with everything having to do with the human body- it’s complicated! However, there seem to be a few major mechanisms that we can talk about initially, without going into too much detail. (For further delving, please visit these webpages!)

There are two wavelengths of light that are most used in PBMT: At the highest end of the visible light spectrum is red light, which goes from a little over 600nm to approximately 700nm. Above the visible light spectrum is near-infrared, from about 700nm to a little over 1,100nm.
Red light in the mid-600 ( 660 ) nanometer range, and near infrared (NIR) light in the mid-800 (850) nanometer range seem to be the most effective wavelengths.
Near-infrared light and red light are able to reach deep into the human body (several centimeters, and close to 2 inches, in some cases) and are able to directly penetrate into the cells, tissues, blood, nerves, the brain, and into the bones.
What’s the difference between red and NIR light?
Red and near infrared (NIR) light are both in the natural light spectrum and have been clinically proven to enhance cellular function. The main differences are that red light at 660nm is readily absorbed by skin tissue, leading to improved skin health and collagen production. Near infrared light at 850nm is invisible to the human eye and penetrates into deeper tissue, leading to benefits like increased muscle recovery and reduced joint pain. 
Why hasn’t this therapy gone mainstream until now? Mainly because it was thought that only expensive lasers could deliver the proper light wavelength needed. Here’s what Harvard researcher Michael Hamblin, PhD (widely regarded as the world’s top authority on photobiomodulation) has to say on this subject:

“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.

Ok, now for the upshot on how these wavelengths work in the body!

1-Stimulating mitochondrial energy production: these wavelengths of light are able to penetrate into cells and activate the mitochondria, directly leading to increased cellular energy production. This means that things which enhance the mitochondria translate into more cellular energy inside the cell, which allows the cell or organ (e.g. brain, heart, liver, skin, muscles, etc.) to work optimally.

Within the mitochondria is the photoacceptor cytochrome c oxidase.

When red and near-infrared light photons hit cytochrome c oxidase, it helps the mitochondria use oxygen more efficiently to produce ATP, which we all remember from high school biology is the energy currency of the body.

Here’s the link between nitric oxide (NO) and ATP:  Nitric oxide is produced by almost every cell in our bodies, and it’s an important molecule for blood vessel health. But when we have too much NO, too much in the wrong place, or when our cells don’t have the antioxidant capacity to quell the buildup of NO, it can hinder ATP from being manufactured in the mitochondria. PBMT prevents this pairing of NO with cytochrome c oxidase. It knocks the NO out and lets the oxygen in!

In essence, photobiomodulation allows oxygen into the mitochondria (and prevents NO from halting energy production).

2-Hormesis: this is the process by which a transient metabolic stressor (like a workout at the gym) stimulates adaptations that actually improve health. When applying light therapy, the transient increases in ROS (free radicals) from red/NIR light activates many of the same cell defense systems that exercise does: in response to that stress, the body adapts to it with things like improved cardiovascular efficiency, improved blood delivery to the muscles, and by strengthening and growing the mitochondria. It also involves downregulating the genes involved in chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (two keys drivers of aging and disease), and upregulating the genes involved in energy production and the internal cellular antioxidant defense system.

What studies have been done about the efficacy of PBMT? 
According to The Energy Blueprint folks, 3,000 studies have been done on light therapy’s effects on the human body. Below is one that I found:

A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase, by Alexander Wunsch and Karsten Matuschka

Conclusions: Broadband polychromatic PBM showed no advantage over the red-light-only spectrum. However, both novel light sources that have not been previously used for PBM have demonstrated efficacy and safety for skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase when compared with controls.

Where do I find these devices?
Suffice it to say, there are now many devices on the market, this being a capitalistic society! Try typing “Light Therapy Devices” into Google and see what happens! By the way, the little light patches my friend is selling are from the company called “LifeWave”; they have been selling these patches for a long time, but are now especially excited to have developed one that affects stem cells! If you’re interested in trying some, I’ll direct you to my friend- just email me (go to my webpage for my email address: and I’ll give you his name, since I didn’t get his permission to include it here.
I hope you do your own research on PBMT; it promises to be a continuing topic for research. As for the promise this kind of therapy has for the future of medicine, I just say this:

It’s about time!!