Allison Millar, LAc
Light Therapy at Basic Balance! Everything You Need To Know
Dark, dreary weather can make the winter months hard for many New Englanders. If you have ever lived in Western states, where the sun almost always shines despite the season, it is hard to deny a general difference in attitude between people residing in New England vs. sunnier states like Colorado, New Mexico, and California. People in sunnier states are more apt to smile at strangers passing on the street. Life seems a little less rushed and stressful somehow, even in the bigger cities. Can we attribute the sunshine alone, to these differences? Perhaps!
I recently completed a webinar course on Light Therapy. I knew that the human body needed sunlight to manufacture vitamin D, but I was fascinated to learn how much more sunlight provides! It turns out that our bodies utilize different wavelengths of light, which penetrate to different depths in our bodies, to carry out various bodily processes. The application of sunlight to our cells elicits a multitude of health benefits.
In this blog post, I’ll shared with you how light, specifically red light, is used by our bodies, the benefits that it provides, and, how (drumroll, please…) you can now take advantage of it at Basic Balance!
What Is Light Therapy And What Does It Do For Us?
Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to use various wavelengths of light from the sun; unfortunately, the majority of us don’t spend enough time outside to take advantage of it! Light therapy provides so many incredible benefits because it corrects a deficiency. A Swedish study observed nearly 30,000 women for 20 years and concluded that women with the lowest sun exposure to sunlight had a death rate twice as high as women with the most sun exposure. Therefore, low levels of sun exposure are a risk factor in similar magnitude to that of being a cigarette smoker!
Light therapy has been, and continues to be, extensively researched; over ten thousand studies have been published on the relationship between light and human health. Red and near-infrared (NIR) light therapy have been the most researched and seem to deliver the most benefits. Devices that deliver red light and near-infrared (NIR) light have been FDA approved for several purposes including anti-aging, hair-loss reversal, acne treatment, pain relief, slow to heal wounds, and fat loss.
Because the wavelength of red light penetrates to the dermal layer of the skin, it is most commonly used for anti-aging and skin health. Two separate reviews of research state that red light therapy helps rejuvenate skin by increasing collagen production, which gives skin its elasticity, and that it increases circulation of blood cells, protects cells from damage, increases mRNA in the cells, improves facial texture, and reduces fine lines, winkle severity, skin damage from UV rays, and skin discolorations, as well as, accelerates skin repair; it has been shown useful for treatment of acne, keloids, vitiligo, burns, and herpes virus sores.
And, the benefits extend much further!
According to “The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy” by Ari Whitten, one of the greatest benefits of red light is reducing inflammation. Bone cells, skin cells, and cells that line the blood vessels, have been shown to replicate faster with exposure to red light, and cells in tendons have been shown to move to the locations where they are most needed under exposure to red light. Red light also has a positive effect on the growth and movement of stem cells.
Numerous studies show that red light affects muscle performance, recovery from exercise, and brain function- that it improves cognitive performance and memory, as well as, recovery from traumatic brain injury. Studies have also shown that it can dull nerve pain, stimulate hair growth, and even stimulate the release of fat content from fat cells.
Studies that have shown red light to combat fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, increase energy levels, increase bone healing, improve eye health, combat depression and anxiety, help tendonitis, increase fertility, improve joint health and combat arthritis, decrease diabetes symptoms, improve oral health, improve respiratory health, improve heart health, improve liver function, increase pancreas health, decrease pain (chronic neck pain, knee pain, low back pain, chronic pain in the elbow, wrist and fingers, chronic joint disorders, sacroiliac joint pain, chronic tooth pain, osteoarthritic pain, tendinitis, myofascia pain), improve immunity, and improve sleep.
Some of the specific research studies are listed in the endnotes of this document. For more studies, consult the reference section of “The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy” by Ari Whitten or search the condition you are intersted in online with the terms “red light”and “NCBI”. An immense amount of research on red light can also be found on pubmed.gov, although you may need to pay for access to those studies.
How Does Red Light Work?
We know that plants use photosynthesis to produce energy. Did you know that humans do, too?! In humans, it’s called ‘photobiomodulation’. We have light-absorbing compounds in our cells and blood called chromophores and photoreceptors. Although the exact mechanism is debated, we know that when these compounds are combined with red light, the result is a higher output of ATP. ATP (Adenosine Triphospate) is made by the mitochondria, or “batteries” of our cells and it provides our body with the energy it needs to function.
Many theories exist to explain the result. One theory states that exposure of cells to red light flushes nitric oxide that binds with Cytochrome C Oxidase (one of these light-absorbing compounds), from the mitochondria, allowing the Cystochrome C Oxidase to bind with oxygen, instead, thus driving more efficient ATP production.
The second explanation is hormesis, or “the process by which a transient metabolic stressor stimulates adaptations that improve health.”2 An example of hormesis is exercise. Exercise creates metabolic stress within our bodies and our bodies respond by getting stronger. We adapt to the stress by improving our cardiovascular function and increasing the blood supply to our muscles. These adaptations happen because the mitochondria tell our nucleus which genes to switch on and off, depending on the environment- a process called retrograde signaling. Incredible, huh?! So, light puts stress on our cells, which triggers adaptations that result in healthier cells that produce more energy and are more resilient to stress and inflammation.
Can Anyone Get Red light Therapy? Cautions & Contraindications:
Red light is used in hospitals for newborns with jaundice and FDA approval implies a certain level of safety. However, not everyone is a candidate. Red light therapy is contraindicated for patients with photosensitivity (aka “sun allergy”, an immune system reaction triggered by sunlight), patients with bipolar disorder (it is rare but possible that red light can trigger a manic state), and patients taking photosensitizing medications like lithium, phenothiazine and/or medications that dilate the eyes.
It is debated whether red light is safe to use on people with autoimmune conditions and/or a history of skin cancer, since it stimulates the immune system and increases cell proliferation. Research suggests that psoriasis, an autoimmune disease, improves with red light therapy but until more is known, Basic Balance does not recommend red light therapy for patients with autoimmune conditions or a history of skin cancer.
Other cautions, albeit rare, can include:
A flare-up of acne that is transitory in nature.
Photosensitive reaction of redness, stinging, or burning that subsides quickly
What Does Red Light Feel like? Will I Get Tan Or Burn?
During light therapy, you will not feel anything more than a bright light being shown on you and the relaxing effects of the Amethyst Biomat. Even though many studies show that red light therapy improves eye health, we provide eye covers for your comfort. You can not get tan or burnt because the wavelengths provided by the lamp are not UV.
How can I take advantage of Red Light Therapy?
The device that we use at Basic Balance provides three light wavelengths that we can select depending on your health goals. The red wavelength will primarily be used for promoting skin health and for its anti-aging effects of cell regeneration, collagen production and blood circulation. Yellow and blue wavelengths will be used together to penetrate to the levels of the sebaceous glands and skin surface, respectively, to treat acne.
If you would like to receive light therapy, your treatment will take place on the Amethyst Biomat, which delivers far infrared heat and negative ions to your cells via 26 pounds of amethyst crystals- a deeply relaxing experience! Far infrared waves penetrate to the hypodermis of the skin, the bottom layer where the water is. This deep penetration effects muscles, nerves, and even bones. It is a highly therapeutic wavelength that we also use in our clinic in the form of TDP/Infrared heat lamps and moxibustion.
You may request your red light treatment as an add-on to your acupuncture treatment for $20 or as a stand-alone service for $35 via the button on the homepage of our website. Please give us at least one-day notice so we can reserve your room.
How Many Treatments Will I Need? How Should I Space Them?
Studies on red light have used varying dosing schedules- some studies provided red light to subjects twice per day, while others provided it twice per week. Thus, a consensus on the proper dosing schedule does not exist. Josh Nerenburg, acupuncturist and owner of San Diego Cosmetic Acupuncture Clinic, has treated thousands of patients with red light therapy. In his webinar, “Light Therapy Facial Rejuvenation for Acupuncturists”, he says patients generally start to see changes in wrinkles, pain, and inflammation within the first 6 red light sessions, although results are widely influenced by the patients’ diet, age, condition of health, and lifestyle habits. Since we are new to using this therapy and cannot yet speak from experience, we suggest 6 treatments to start, ideally spaced no less than once per week and no more than every other day.
The Problem With Most Devices On The Market:
Red light is trending across the nation and many devices are sold online. One concern is in regards to power density, or how much power the light emits (in watts) over the size of the area; only a small fraction of the power density on many devices is actually delivered in the therapeutic, red light, wavelength. Secondly, the wattages claimed by the manufacturers are based on theoretical measurements that are often widely different than the actual wattage of the lamp, as measured using a PAR meter. At Basic Balance, we use one of the most powerful red lights on the market, the AcuLight Pro; it contains 1,226 LED lights, provides over 15,000 lumens, and supplies 613 watts.
What about blue light, near infrared (NIR), far infrared, low-level laser therapy (LLLT), and cold laser?
We’ll need to talk about the electromagnetic spectrum, a chart that you may remember from your high school physics class. It is a chart of the complete range of all types of radiation that have both electric and magnetic fields and travels in waves. X rays are at one end (.0001 nanometers) and AM radio waves are at the other end (300 meters, ie. 3 football fields) large. Visible light is only a small part of the spectrum.
AM Radio Waves > Far Infrared > Near Infrared > Visible Light > UV > X Rays
On the smaller end of the spectrum with a wavelength slighter longer than X rays but shorter than visible light, is UV light. Because it of its shorter wavelength, UV light can damage the DNA in our skin cells so it must be utilized with caution (ie. high quality sunscreens and limited exposure). However, UV light is imperative to our health, as it allows us to synthesize vitamin D from the sun.
Within the visible light spectrum, blue light penetrates the most superficial depth of the skin. It sets the circadian rhythm in our brain, which in turn regulates numerous neurotransmitters and hormones. It’s often used for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression related to changes in seasons. Like yellow light, it balances the microbiome on the surface of the skin, which is beneficial for acne. Close to blue light, within the visible light spectrum, is red light. Red light penetrates to the dermal layer of the skin, where the collagen is. It acts on the mitochondria (ie. ‘batteries’) in our cells to stimulate cellular energy and boost ATP production.
Near Infrared (NIR) sits next to red light on the spectrum and is not visible to the eye. NIR and red light work on the same pathways, providing similar benefits so they are often studied together. Low level light therapy (LLLT), also called Cold Laser, utilizes wavelengths of light that are in the visible and near-infrared range. The longer wavelengths allow for deeper penetration, thus benefiting the deeper tissues of the body. At Basic Balance, we often refer patients for Cold Laser therapy when we are faced with stubborn pain cases in which scar tissue from a past surgery is a hindrance to the recovery process.
Far Infrared wavelengths, about the size of a pinhead, heat up our cells, stimulating changes in cell function and circulation. The energy that infrared heat releases in the body is identical to the energy of the sun and provides similar effects as sunlight. These waves penetrate down to the hypodermis, the bottom layer of skin where the water is, thus heating up the water molecules. This deep penetration effects muscles, nerves, and even bones. This is a highly therapeutic wavelength that we use in our clinic alongside acupuncture in the form of the Amethyst Biomat, TDP/Infrared heat lamps, and moxibustion.
REFERENCES/ END NOTES
1. Lindqvist P.G., Epstein E., Nielsen K., Landin-Olsson M., Ingvar C., Olsson H. Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: A competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. J. Intern. Med. 2016;280:375–387. doi: 10.1111/joim.12496.
2. One review was done by Harvard professor Michael Hambin, PhD and one was published in a 2013 issue of the journal, Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery
3. Enhancing physical performance and muscle recovery afterwards, Sommer etal (2013)
Enhancing Fertility, Oshiro T (2012)
Improving eye health. Merry, GF et al (2016)
Fighting chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia Gur, A (2002)
Fighting Cancer Antunes HS et al (2017)
Removing wrinkles, lines, and veins on the surface of the skin. Kim, Hee-Kyong (2017)
Killing Pain Chung H. et al (2012)
Protecting cells against damage from stress Guarldo et al (2016)
A 2013 randomized, placebo controlled study demonstrated that in people who were given near-infrared light therapy, thyroid function dramatically improved. Amazingly 47% of patients were able to stop the medication completely. (Holfling, D 2013)
“Red light stimulates collagen synthesis, fibroblast formation, anti-inflammatory action, stimulation of energy, production in mitochondria, and stimulating DNA repair.” Lau et al. in “The influence of low level laser on biomodulation of collagen and elastin fibers.”
Reduce Signs of damage, DNA damage and aging from UV rays. Jiang M et al (2017)
Reduce wrinkles. Kim, Hee-Kyong. (2017)
Reduce color patches, hyperpigmentation, and skin discoloration. Pinar, Avci. SCMS, 32(1)
Accelerate repair in the epithelial layer of skin. Wunsch A. (2014)
Combat other skin conditions like acne keloids, vitiligo, burns, herpes virus sores, and psoriasis Jiang M et al (2017)
Speed wound healing by enhancing skin tissue repair and growth of new cells Barolet, D et al (2016)
Proven to help those alopecia to significantly regrow and thicken hair. Adil A et al (2017)