Light is essential for the development and health of every living species on this planet. In humans, natural light is necessary for vitamin D production and balancing the circadian rhythm.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, our bodies are severally under-illuminated. We spend so much time indoors under harsh artificial light looking at bright screens, but not enough time outdoors exposed to the natural light spectrum.
No wonder our circadian rhythm, sleep and energy levels are completely out of whack!
Luckily, there is a way to get more of the good light waves without drastically changing your lifestyle or even leaving the house. And it's been used by scientists and astronauts at NASA!
If you're looking for something that can supercharge your health, keep reading to learn about red and infrared light therapy.
Most of the light waves on the spectrum -- measured in nanometres (nm) -- are invisible to us, bar a VERY small visible light spectrum that ranges from 390 – 750nm.
Within this visible spectrum, low-energy red light waves fall between 625 – 750nm. Beyond the visible light spectrum, on the red light side, we find infrared light. We can't see it but we feel it as heat. Infrared light consists of near, mid and far-infrared waves that measure between 750nm – 1mm. However, near-infrared (750 – 1200nm) is closest to the red spectrum and has the most health benefits.
When it comes to red light therapy, the consensus seems to be that the effective "therapeutic window" for light lies within wavelengths of 630-680nm and 800-880nm.
Red light therapy -- also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level light therapy (LLLT) -- is a completely natural and non-invasive treatment that heals the body on a cellular level.
It delivers low-energy red and near-infrared (NIR) light waves to the body through efficient LED bulbs. Red and NIR light have the same biological benefits and work synergistically, penetrating up to 5 - 10cm below the surface of the skin. Red light waves penetrate the superficial layers of the skin, and the longer wavelength NIR light targets deeper tissues like nerves, muscles, tendons and bone.
So, how does it work?
Red light boosts energy production in human cells by stimulating photoreceptor proteins called cytochrome C oxidase (1). This encourages the mitochondria -- the energy powerhouse of the cell -- to break down nitric oxide and efficiently generate more of the energy molecules adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the energy currency of the cell and optimal ATP production supports health and repair by enabling the cells to perform efficiently and allowing the body to heal.
Additionally, red light therapy creates something called hormesis -- low-dose stress in the cell. This kind of short-term stress -- much like exercise -- is good for the body as it boosts protein synthesis and enzyme activation. It strengthens the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant defences in the body and improves the overall health and resilience of cells.
Red light waves also increase blood flow, thus improving nutrient and oxygen delivery to cells throughout the body.
By affecting change and promoting healing at a cellular level, red light therapy delivers a varied range of benefits. An astonishing number of studies -- more than 3000 to be specific -- have established a multitude of health benefits due to red and infrared light.
Let's explore some of the most impressive benefits.
Red light therapy has the ability to penetrate the body and naturally reduce inflammation and pain in skin, muscles and other tissues. It increases blood flow, encourages antioxidant activity and lowers inflammatory markers in the body (2).
Studies have confirmed that red light therapy can improve a variety of chronic pain symptoms and conditions, such as joint pain, back pain, neck pain and fibromyalgia. A 2010 review study found that red light therapy effectively treats painful tendon injuries and inflammation (3).
Considering that pain is one of the most common reasons for missing work and visiting the doctor, red light therapy is a natural treatment worth pursuing.
Another popular use for red light therapy -- and an area that it excels in -- is improving the health and appearance of the skin.
It boosts blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells to encourage healing and reduce inflammation. It also increases the production of collagen by stimulating collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body. It's found predominantly in connective tissue and acts as the "glue" that holds everything together and gives the skin strength and elasticity.
Unfortunately, poor nutrition and lifestyle and ageing all decrease our production of collagen, and the appearance of our skin suffers. By encouraging collagen production, red light therapy firms up skin, reduces fine lines, wrinkles and sagging and generally improves your appearance.
A 2014 study found that volunteers who had two weekly sessions of red light therapy saw significant improvements in their complexion compared to a control group (4). Excitingly, it also reduced signs of aging.
Research has also confirmed that red and NIR light therapy can improve the skin by healing and reducing (5, 6, 7, 8, 9):
Common skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis are notoriously hard to treat and cause huge stress to sufferers.
Red light therapy can heal these embarrassing conditions by reducing skin inflammation and speeding up wound healing. It's fast becoming the treatment of choice due to its effectiveness and safety.
A 2010 study on treatment-resistant psoriasis sufferers found that two 20-minute red light therapy sessions resulted in a 60 - 100% reduction in psoriasis (10).
If you've had surgery or have a cut or wound that is slow to heal, red light therapy can help.
It speeds up wound healing by boosting circulation and allowing more oxygen and healing nutrients to reach the area. It reduces tissue inflammation, encourages the formation of new blood vessels and tissues and improves collagen levels (11).
A 2014 study on patients recovering from heart surgery found that red light therapy reduced pain and bleeding and increased wound healing (12).
Diabetic neuropathy is a distressing complication whereby high blood sugar causes nerve damage. People commonly experience symptoms of pain and numbness in their legs and feet as well as poor circulation.
Red light therapy provides relief and improves quality of life by boosting circulation and reducing pain and cell damage. It was shown to significantly reduce symptoms when applied to the feet of sufferers for fifteen minutes three times per week (13).
Red light therapy is extremely helpful for those looking to improve their muscle gains, physical performance and recovery.
Our muscles are loaded with mitochondria, so red light therapy before a workout stimulates ATP production and increases muscle energy, performance and time to exhaustion. It can also warm up joints and muscles to reduce the chance of injury.
When used after physical activity, it improves blood circulation and oxygenation in muscle tissue to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and speed up muscle repair and growth.
Research also suggests red light therapy can (14, 15, 16, 17):
By reducing inflammation, boosting collagen synthesis and regenerating cartilage, red light therapy can lower joint pain and swelling and reduce joint degeneration. Research shows us that it's amazing for treating symptoms of degenerative osteoarthritis and inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis (18, 19).
In addition to reducing joint pain and swelling, red light therapy also decreases stiffness, increases range of motion and improves quality of life.
Red light waves penetrate deep below the skin, reaching bone tissue and improving cellular energy production, circulation, blood vessel formation and collagen synthesis to speed up bone repair (20).
This exciting approach to healing bones is promising for people at high risk of fractures -- like those with osteoporosis.
No need for hair transplants and weird shampoos -- red light therapy is a safe, natural and effective way to encourage hair growth in men and women (21). By increasing the circulation in the scalp and stimulating the hair follicles, it can eliminate the embarrassment and low self-confidence that comes along with thinning hair!
A 2014 study on women with alopecia found that using red light therapy every other day for 25 minutes resulted in a 37% increase in hair growth compared to the placebo group (22).
The anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and circulation-boosting effects of red light therapy make it great for reducing the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines (23).
Low-level red light therapy has been shown to improve vision in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) -- a leading cause of blindness (24).
Interestingly, animal research has shown that red light therapy could also heal the damage done to the retina of the eye by bright artificial light (25)! While human studies are still needed, this is certainly promising in a world where artificial blue light exposure is growing.
For more information on how blue light damages the eyes, read our blog here.
Red light therapy may be a natural treatment for those with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). This is particularly true in the case of Hashimoto's thyroiditis -- where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland in the neck and impairs its function.
One 2013 study found that NIR light therapy improved thyroid function and reduced autoimmune thyroid antibodies in people with Hashimoto's disease (26). These results not only show that red light improves thyroid health, but suggest it regulates immune system function too.
Red light penetrates pretty deeply into the body, which is great news for our brains. Emerging research suggests -- when applied to the head -- photons can reach below the skull to support brain health. Red light rays improve circulation, oxygenation and energy production in the brain, boosting brain cell function and regenerating brain tissue.
It has been shown to be good for learning, memory, reaction times and a positive mood (27). It may also be a great addition to treating traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative conditions like dementia.
Poor mitochondrial function, reduced ATP production and cellular degeneration -- mediated by high levels of oxidative stress -- are all components of ageing.
By targeting mitochondrial function and boosting energy production, red light therapy can slow down ageing and associated issues. This may include:
Using a red light therapy device in the evening before bed can regulate your natural circadian rhythm to help you fall asleep faster and encourage deep, restful sleep. Unlike artificial blue light from room lighting and digital screens, red light helps the mind and body to wind down and encourage the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
In 2012, a study on female athletes found 30 minutes of red light therapy each night for two weeks improved sleep quality and blood levels of melatonin (28).
These results are exciting for those struggling with insomnia and poor quality sleep -- getting good sleep is one of the best things for health!
For more information on the benefits of getting enough sleep, read our blog titled "Why Quality Sleep Is Essential For Optimal Health."
Red light therapy can boost energy and stamina and provide endless feelings of well-being by improving sleep and increasing the production of the key cellular energy molecule ATP. This makes it exciting for those dealing with general fatigue as well as people with more serious chronic conditions -- think Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Multiple Sclerosis.
One placebo-controlled study treated fibromyalgia sufferers with red light therapy three times a week. Not only did they have reduced pain at the end of the study, but fatigue had substantially decreased too (29).
You don't need to go to a doctor's office and spend hundreds of dollars a pop for the amazing benefits of red light therapy. Easy-to-use handheld red light devices allow you to experience it in the comfort of your home. Just direct the device over the treatment area and let the penetrating red and NIR light waves get to work.
It's a simple treatment, but there are three key aspects you need to consider to get the most out of your red light therapy. They are the power density, the dose and the length of treatment.
The power density or intensity of the red light is measured in milliwatts per cm2 (mW/cm2) and is determined by the distance of the light from the skin during treatment. Basically, it's the number of light photons hitting the targeted area. An ideal power density is 10 - 30 mW/cm2. But the closer the light is to your skin, the greater the power.
The dose of red light reaching your cells is determined by the power density and the time spent using the light -- it's measured in Joules per cm2. Research indicates that the optimal dose for the skin is 4-6 Joules/cm2 (30). To treat deeper tissues, a stronger dose of 50-100 Joules/cm2 is needed.
If you know the power density of the light then you can work out the dose you're getting each minute. For example, if you're using a light therapy device (like the one we offer) with an intensity of 20mW/cm2, the equation would be 20 x 60 seconds/1000 = 1.2 Joules/cm2 per minute.
Therefore, when using our BlockBlueLight handheld red light device, you'll hold it 50cm away from each area for 4-6 minutes for optimal dose and intensity. For deeper issues, hold it 5-20cm away from the area for 10-20 minutes for a greater intensity and healing dose.
Don't forget to remove any clothing covering the treatment area before using a red light therapy device. The light may feel pleasantly warm, but it won't get hot and will never burn you.
Alternatively if your wanting to treat a larger area with more power, our Power Panel is ideal for this. Expose the area you want to treat from 6-12 inches away - treat each area for 5-15 minutes (no more than 20 minutes) 4-10 times per week. Some suggestions on how to use the light are below:
It's great news that handheld red and NIR light therapy device are becoming more easily available. But how do you know the device you buy has therapeutic benefits? That's a good question!
For maximum benefit, look out for the following:
Devices that fall outside the recommended wavelengths, such as 600 or 700nm, will not affect your cells.
Our portable red and NIR light therapy device offers a light-weight and convenient way to get the amazing benefits of red light. It has a surface area of 12cm x 14cm and provides powerful wavelengths of 660nm and 850nm. The power density of our light is 20mW/cm at 50cm and 200mW/cm2 at 5cm.
Our super charged power panel provides high powered targeted treatment with 40 x 5w high powered LED's providing 660nm red and 880nm near infrared wave lengths for maximum mitochondrial stimulation and energy and healing and recovery benefits.
This panel is the next step up from our hand held device and allows you to increase the treatment area and strength.
Red light therapy is a natural and safe way to boost energy, speed up healing, lower inflammation, increase circulation and improve skin health, among many other benefits. The best part is it doesn’t suppress any symptoms, but rather encourages the body to heal itself on a deep level.
For more information and to invest in your own red light therapy device, visit www.blockbluelight.co.nz
Red Light Therapy Resources
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