* Note: if you are currently being treated for depression please consult your physician about integrating red light therapy into your treatment and wellness plan. Red light therapy is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Brighten Your Day: How red light can help with depression

Being human is hard. Even 300,000 years of evolution couldn’t prepare us for all the stressors and hardships we face every day. Whether it’s recent unemployment, the loss of a loved one, or just the daily grind, the weight of the world can get us down sometimes. Constant stressors like these actually impair the ability of our brain cells to function properly. These impairments are one of the primary causes of depression. Although we can’t avoid everything that might make us stressed or sad, we can reduce the harmful impact those things have on our brains and ultimately reduce the symptoms of depression they cause.

Depression is one of the most common psychological illnesses. In 2017, 17.3 million Americans over 18 experienced at least one depressive episode (NIMH). That’s roughly 7% of the entire country. And, unsurprisingly, experts suspect that number is rising rapidly in 2020 (Daly, 2020). Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, loss of interest in daily activities, low self-esteem, and irritability (Bhatt et al, 2020). Depression can also impair cognitive processes like attention and short-term memory (Barrett & Gonzalez-Lima, 2013). All of these symptoms are the result of an imbalance in your brain chemistry. While medication is the most common way to restore balance, it isn’t the only option. Red light therapy is an exciting new approach to improving both the emotional and cognitive symptoms of depression.

Research into what is happening in our brains when we get depressed shows that oxidative stress plays a leading role (Bhatt et al, 2020). In short, oxidative stress is an imbalance between the quantity of free radicals and our cells ability to neutralize them. When free radicals are too abundant for our cells to deal with them, these reactive molecules start to eat away at our cells, causing cell damage and sometimes even cell death. Because free radicals are generated during cellular respiration– the process of converting oxygen to energy- any organ that requires a lot of oxygen is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress, and the human brain is at the top of that list.

Our brains require an exceptional amount of energy to function, even when we aren’t doing much with them. Because of these energy demands, our brains consume about 20% of all the oxygen in our bodies (Bukanina et al, 2015). This level of oxygen consumption puts our brain cells, or neurons, at high risk for oxidative stress. Typically, neurons are able to manage the levels of free radicals and avoid oxidative stress, but there are many factors that can lead to an imbalance including alcohol consumption, air pollution, and psychological stressors- like coping with a pandemic, for instance (Salim et al, 2014).

Neurons that are experiencing oxidative stress can’t function properly, which leads to a whole mess of problems. One of the biggest of these problems is that oxidative stress can trigger inflammation, which can cause additional damage to an already struggling cell (Bukanina et al, 2015). What’s worse is that the inflammatory molecules can actually increase levels of free radicals, which triggers inflammation, which increases levels of free radicals, which triggers inflammation, which… you get it. It’s a nasty cycle.

This is where red light therapy comes in. Red light acts as a sort of upgrade in our cells’ defense against free radicals. Almost like virus protection software on your computer. For the most part, the standard protection does a good enough job at keeping your computer safe, but unless you get the premium package, your computer is still vulnerable to attack. Similarly, neurons typically do a good enough job at defending themselves against free radicals, but they are still at risk of being overwhelmed by free radicals. Red light enhances the neurons’ defense system, making them more able to handle a surge of free radicals. By improving neurons’ ability to neutralize free radicals, red light helps protect them from oxidative stress, which helps keep our brains healthy and happy.

Red light’s ability to improve mood and alleviate depression symptoms is supported by a number of studies. One of the first studies to demonstrate this applied red light to the foreheads of 10 people who were experiencing a depressive episode. Two weeks after treatment, the participants reported feeling more positive, less depressed, and less anxious than when they started (Schiffer et al, 2009). A similar study found that depressed subjects who were treated with red light showed improved mood, memory, and attention (Barrett & Gonzalez-Lima, 2013).

Our brains are arguably our most important organ. When our brains aren’t functioning properly, it can affect our experience of literally everything. But our brains are also the organ that is most vulnerable to damage from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress impairs the ability of our neurons to do their jobs and can even cause them to die. The neural damage that results from oxidative stress is one of the primary causes of depression (among other psychiatric illnesses). Red light helps improve both cognitive and psychological symptoms of depression by assisting our neurons in the fight against oxidative stress.

References

Barrett, D. W., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2013). Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. Neuroscience, 230, 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.11.016

Bhatt, S., Nagappa, A. N., & Patil, C. R. (2020). Role of oxidative stress in depression. Drug Discovery Today, 25(7), 1270–1276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drudis.2020.05.001

Bukanina, N., Pariante, C., & Zunszain, P. (2015). Immune mechanisms linked to depression via oxidative stress and neuroprogression. Immunology, 144, 365–373. https://doi.org/10.1111/imm.12443

Daly, M., Sutin, A. R., & Robinson, E. (2021). Depression reported by US adults in 2017–2018 and March and April 2020. Journal of Affective Disorders, 278(September 2020), 131–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.09.065

Salim, S. (2014). Oxidative Stress and Psychological Disorders. Current Neuropharmacology, 12, 140–147. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24669208/

Schiffer, F., Johnston, A. L., Ravichandran, C., Polcari, A., Teicher, M. H., Webb, R. H., & Hamblin, M. R. (2009). Psychological benefits 2 and 4 weeks after a single treatment with near-infrared light to the forehead: a pilot study of 10 patients with major depression and anxiety. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 5(1), 46. https://doi.org/10.1186/1744-9081-5-46

 

Protecting our cells against oxidative stress

Did you know that things we encounter every day, like sunlight and car exhaust, can be damaging to our cells? The cellular damage caused by aspects of our environment like these has been linked to the development of diseases and is even thought to be one of the main reasons our bodies don’t function quite as well as we age. This, for many reasons, is a huge bummer, the most notable of which is that it’s challenging, if not impossible, to avoid these harmful environmental agents. Luckily, red light can help our cells defend themselves against this kind of damage!

 

At Lux, we believe that a comprehensive, scientifically-informed knowledge base is an essential part of decision making, which is why we are so excited to share the science behind red light therapy with you. We’ve already talked about how red light can improve cellular energy production and cell function (check out our previous posts if you haven’t yet), but current research suggests that red light also has protective effects on our cells, helping them stay healthy and youthful. Specifically, red light enhances our cells’ ability to protect themselves from the damaging effects of highly reactive molecules called free radicals.

Free radicals are a normal part of our biology that are made during processes like immune responses or cellular respiration. For example, free radicals are produced when we place extreme demands on our muscle cells during exercise (Davies et al, 1982). However, their generation can also be triggered by our environment. Alcohol, tobacco, certain foods and medicines, and air pollution are all factors that can increase the production of free radicals (NIH). These molecules can be hazardous to our health because of the damage they’re able to inflict on our cells. The molecular structure of free radicals gives them the ability to steal electrons from other parts of the cell, compromising the integrity of those structures. This electron theft is known as oxidation. Free radicals can oxidize important components of the cell-like DNA, the cell membrane, and mitochondria- causing those structures to lose their ability to function properly. Accumulation of toxic free radicals is known as oxidative stress. Damage to our cells that results from oxidative stress is associated with a number of diseases including cardiovascular diseases (Liguori et al, 2018) and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (Yan et al, 2013). Oxidative stress is also thought to play a big role in the functional losses that accompany aging (Liguori et al, 2018).

Antioxidants, sometimes referred to as ‘free radical scavengers’, counteract oxidative stress by finding and neutralizing free radicals. Neutralizing free radicals renders them unable to steal electrons and thus totally harmless to the cell. The antioxidants our cells use for scavenging can come from sources external to our bodies -like fruits and vegetables or kombucha if you’re hip like that- but our cells are also able to create them on their own when they detect the presence of free radicals. Sometimes the concentration of free radicals can overwhelm our cells’ ability to fight them, no matter how much-fermented tea you’ve been guzzling. Once the quantity of free radicals exceeds our cell’s ability to deal with them, you get oxidative stress, cellular damage, and sometimes even cell death.

Current research shows that red light therapy can protect our cells against oxidative stress by improving their ability to produce free radical scavengers. For example, a recent study conducted in rodents showed that treatment with red light prior to exercise lead to a reduction in oxidative stress and an increase in antioxidant producing ability (known as the antioxidant capacity) in cells of the animals’ leg muscles (deOliveira et al, 2018). A similar study conducted in humans evaluated oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity following electrical stimulation of leg muscles. Like the rodent study, the data from this research also showed a reduction in oxidative stress and improvements in antioxidant production following red light treatment (Jowko et al, 2019). These studies and others like them demonstrate that red light can improve our cells’ ability to produce antioxidants. This research also shows that the boost in the production of free radical scavengers helps prevent oxidative stress and cell damage.

All in all, the science says that red light is beneficial for us in a variety of ways. In addition to enhancing cellular function, red light also protects our cells by boosting their defenses against free radicals. When our cells are better at creating antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, they experience less oxidative stress and are able to stay healthier for longer. Healthy cells, of course, are critical for our vitality and well-being. Even when we lead a healthy lifestyle, consume plenty of antioxidant-rich foods and beverages, and avoid substances like alcohol and tobacco that generate free radicals, our cells are still vulnerable to oxidative stress. Red light offers a safe and sustainable way to help our cells fight against oxidative stress by improving their ability to create antioxidants.

 Resources:

Davies et al. (1982). Free radicals and tissue damage produced by exercise. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 107(4), 1198-1205. Link to paper

deOliviera et al. (2018). Photobiomodulation Leads to Reduced Oxidative Stress in Rats Submitted to High-Intensity Resistive Exercise. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/5763256

Jowko et al. (2019). The effect of low level laser irradiation on oxidative stress, muscle damage and function following neuromuscular electrical stimulation. A double blind, randomised, crossover trial. BMC sports science, medicine, and rehabilitation, 11(38). https://bmcsportsscimedrehabil.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13102-019-0147-3

Liguori et al. (2018). Oxidative stress, aging, and disease. Clin interv aging, 13, 757-772. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5927356/

NIH: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth

Yan et al. (2013). Mitochondrial defects and oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Free Radic Biol Med, 62, 90-101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3744189/

MITOCHONDRIA, ATP, & RED LIGHT
CHARGING THE POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL

The healing properties of red light are truly amazing. Infrared healing light has been shown to accelerate wound healing, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, mitigate UV damage, improve strength and stamina, promote the longevity of cells in the retina, and enhance attention – just to name a few (Avci et al, 2013; Barrett & Gonzalez-Lima, 2013; Ferraresi et al, 2012; Whelan et al, 2001). The idea that light could provide such an astonishing array of benefits sounds like magic, but evidence says that it’s very real, and its astounding ability to heal is made possible through its influence on the one thing almost all our cells have in common: mitochondria.

You might remember us terming mitochondria as the “powerhouses” of the cell. This amazing organelle actually performs more than just one essential cellular function, but they’re best known for their critical role in producing the energy our cells need to operate. They do this via a process known as cellular respiration, in which glucose and oxygen are converted into energy, which is then packed into a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is essentially an energy delivery system, like the GrubHub of the cell. It captures the chemical energy obtained by cellular respiration and delivers it to any part of the cell that’s in need of fuel. This fuel can be released to drive metabolic processes, transport substances across membranes, and do mechanical work, like the contraction of muscles during a heartbeat. The more ATP a cell can produce, the more processes it can fuel, and the better it is at its job.

Our cells’ ability to create enough ATP is essential for our health (Johnson et al, 2019). The amount of energy a cell can generate is almost entirely dependent on the quantity and quality of its mitochondria, which can vary with changes in energy demands, age, and disease. For example, if you started jogging consistenly, the increase in energetic demands on your quadriceps would stimulate those cells to produce more mitochondria, which means more ATP, and, ultimately, more miles behind you (Coffey et al, 2007). Conversely, chronic fatigue and a deficit in ATP can arise from mitochondrial mutations that inhibit cellular respiration (Myhill et al, 2009). Disruption of mitochondrial function is thought to be one of the primary causes of physical decline associated with aging (Gkotsi et al, 2014) and is also a prime suspect in the development of a number of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (Lin & Beal, 2006).

Beyond their critical role in the health and longevity of our cells, mitochondria are a very special organelle because they are photosensitive, meaning they can be stimulated by light. Thought to be the product of a happy accident early in the evolution of eukaryotic cells, mitochondria contain a special, light-sensitive protein, similar to chlorophyll in plants, called cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) that absorbs and reacts to red light (Farivar et al, 2014). CcO is an important part of the electron transport chain, where the final stage of cellular respiration is carried out. This stage, known as oxidative phosphorylation, is where the majority of ATP is generated. When photons of red light are absorbed by CcO, the rate of cellular respiration is enhanced, ultimately leading to an increase in production of ATP (Farivar et al, 2014).

The influence of red light on mitochondria and ATP synthesis is supported by extensive research. Some of the earliest evidence came from a study that examined the effect of red light on lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. This experiment showed that cells treated with red light developed “giant mitochondria”, which could provide a higher rate of cellular respiration and energy production than smaller mitochondria could offer (Manteifel et al, 1997). A similar experiment revealed that treatment with red light could also increase the total number of mitochondria present in the cell, consequently increasing the amount ATP available (Takezaki et al, 2005). In addition to impacting the size and number of a cell’s mitochondria, red light has also been shown to specifically affect production of ATP. For example, a study conducted in mice revealed an increase in the ATP content of muscle cells only 6 hours after treatment with red light (Ferraresi et al, 2015). Importantly, this increase in ATP was associated with greater fatigue resistance, meaning that the treatment with red light produced functionally significant improvements in cellular respiration. In other words, this study demonstrated both that red light increases ATP content and that it actually matters.
Red light therapy has been shown to benefit our bodies and minds in a stunning variety of ways. From accelerating the healing of wounds (Whelan et al, 2001) to improving mood and attention (Barrett & Gonzalez-Lima, 2013), the ways in which red light has been shown to enhance our health and well-being are extensive, diverse, and somewhat unbelievable. However, when we closely examine the photosensitive nature of the mitochondrial protein, CcO, the rich catalogue of benefits associated with red light therapy makes sense. Given the fact that mitochondria play such a critical role in the health, productivity, and longevity of our cells, any treatment that could improve their function would necessarily have massive implications for health and wellness. It turns out, by sheer luck of evolution, this cellular powerhouse of ours can be charged with red light.

Resources:

  1. Avci, P., et al (2013). Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Seminars in cutaneous medicine and surgery, 32(1), 41–52; Link
  2. Barrett & Gonzalez-Lima (2013). Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. Neuroscience, 230: 13-23. Link
  3. Coffey & Hawley (2007). The molecular bases of training adaptation. Sports Medicine, 37(9): 737-763. Link
  4. Farivar, et al (2014). Biological effects of low level laser therapy. J Lasers Med Sci, 5(2):58-62 Link
  5. Ferraresi, et al (2012). Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) on muscle tissue: performance, fatigue, and repair benefited by the power of light. Photonics and lasers in medicine. 1(4):267-286. Link
  6. Ferraresi, et al. (2015). Time Response of Increases in ATP and Muscle Resistance to Fatigue after Low-Level Laser (Light) Therapy (LLLT) in Mice. Lasers in Medical Science, 30(4): 1259–1267. Link
  7. Gkotsi, et al (2014). Recharging mitochondrial batteries in old eyes. Near infra-red increases ATP. Experimental eye research, 122: 50-53. Link
  8. Johnson, et al. (2019). Shortage of cellular ATP as a cause of diseases and strategies to enhance ATP. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 98(10). Link
  9. Lin & Beal (2006). Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress in neurodegenerative diseases. Nature, 443(19): 787-795. Link
  10. Manteifel, et al. (1997). Ultrastructural changes in chondriome of human lymphocytes after irradiation with HE_NE laser: appearance of giant mitochondria. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 38: 25-30. Link
  11. Myhill, et al (2009). Chronic fatigue syndrome and mitochondrial dysfunction. Int J clin exp med, 2:1-16. Link
  12. Olmo-Aguado et al. (2016). Red light of the visual spectrum attenuates cell death in culture and retinal ganglion cell death in situ. Acta Ophthalmologica, 94: 481-491. Link
  13. Takezaki et al. (2005). Ultrastructural observations of human skin following irradiation with visible red light-emitting diodes (LEDs): A preliminary in vivo report. Laser Therapy, 14(4), 153-160: Link
  14. Whelan et al. (2001). Effect of NASA light-emitting diode irradiation on wound healing. Journal of clinical laser medicine and surgery, 19(6): 305-314. Link

Here at Lux, we believe that consumers should be equipped with all the facts and data behind the products they use. Knowledge is power after all, which is why we want to empower you with the science behind the amazing benefits of red light therapy. But in addition to our values and our belief in informed consumerism, the science is just too cool not to share. So, let’s take a closer look at the cellular mechanisms that give red light its power, specifically a quirky enzyme called Cytochrome C oxidase.

Research into the biological effects of red light therapy strongly suggest that the benefits of red light arise from its impact on mitochondria. Mitochondria, as you might already know, are the site of cellular respiration, the process through which food and oxygen is converted into energy. Through its influence on the mitochondria, red light ramps up cellular respiration, which means more energy for the cell and an overall improvement in cell function.

There are several stages to cellular respiration, but we don’t need to get into the details of those now because when it comes to red light, it’s the last stage that matters most. This final stage of cellular respiration, called oxidative phosphorylation, is the process that creates the majority of a cell’s ATP. It’s driven by activity in what is known as the electron transport chain. The electron transport chain is a series of proteins and other organic molecules located in the inner membrane of mitochondria that serve exactly the function you might expect of something with that name- they transport electrons. As electrons are transported along the chain, a buildup of energy is created, almost like the charging of a battery. This energy is then used to fuel the process that creates ATP.

The final stop along the electron transport chain is a tangled web of light-sensitive proteins called Cytochrome c oxidase (or CcO for short). CcO is assumed to be the means by which red light has its effects because it’s known to absorb (instead of reflect) red light (Hamblin et al, 2016). The ability for red light to influence CcO has been demonstrated empirically as well. For example, a recent study examined small chunks of tissue collected from human forearms following treatment with red light (don’t worry, the humans were cool with it). This study showed that CcO activity increased following exposure to red-light (Wang et al, 2016). Importantly, the increase in CcO activity was accompanied by an increase in blood oxygenation, which is what we would expect if CcO activity was truly ramped up. Other studies have shown that exposing CcO to red light enhanced activity in the electron transport chain, which resulted in an increase in ATP production (Farivar, 2014).

Based on these findings and others like them, the seemingly magical property of red light is thought to stem from its interaction with CcO. That is, when a part of your body is treated with red light, the light waves travel into your tissue, where they are absorbed by CcO. Absorption of red light by CcO enhances its activity, which leads to an increase in cellular respiration and ATP production, providing more energy to those cells.

The fact that mitochondria contain a photosensitive enzyme like CcO is an interesting quirk of evolution. The prevailing theory is that long ago, before the emergence of plants and animals, an ancient precursor to eukaryotic cells (the kind of cells that we’re made of) essentially ate a photosensitive bacterium, which would eventually evolve to be mitochondria as we know them today (Sommer 2020). This bacterium used sunlight to produce energy, much like plants do. The energy this bacterium produced was utilized by its new host cell, which, it turns out, is a sweet enough deal for the relationship between bacterium and host cell to persist for more than a billion years. This mutually beneficial relationship evolved over time and ultimately gave rise to life as we know it!

Thanks to the dining preferences of a prehistoric cell, proteins embedded in the membrane of our mitochondria can react to light, which opens the door for red light therapy. Red light can be absorbed by CcO, which boosts cellular respiration in mitochondria, which leads to enhanced cell function and ultimately a whole plethora of health benefits for us.

Resources:

  1. Farivar, et al (2014). Biological effects of low-level laser therapy. J Lasers Med Sci, 5(2):58-62 Link
  2. Hambin & Demidova (2006). Mechanisms for low-light therapy. Proc. of SPIE, 6140(1). Link
  3. Sommer (2020). Mitochondrial solar sensitivity: evolutionary and biomedical implications. Ann Transl Med, 8(5):161. Link
  4. Wang, et al (2016). Interplay between up-regulation of cytochrome-c-oxidase and hemoglobin oxygenation induced by near-infrared laser. Scientific Reports, 6:30540. Link

Beauty is a feeling. It’s the way it feels to celebrate a personal victory, dance like nobody’s watching, or laugh until your cheeks hurt. It’s the radiance and vitality exuded by those who treat themselves well, because when we take good care of ourselves, it shows. Our skin, for example, is an external reflection of the way we care for ourselves. It can reveal when we need more water, sleep, or nutrients, and can indicate larger systemic health issues, such as cardiovascular disease (3). Our skin is also extremely susceptible to damage. By the time we are in our late-20’s, age, sun-exposure, and air pollution have all started taking their toll on the structural integrity of our skin, leading to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (1,4). Because life is so hard on our skin, making the effort to treat it well can go a long way in helping us feel confident, vibrant, and beautiful.

Taking good care of our skin is not always easy. For most people, it means having to sift through millions of products, all promising us the complexion of our dreams if we buy this jar of gooey chemicals to smear on our faces. And for those who want to skip the mystery goo and empty promises, there’s the option of seeing a dermatologist and undergoing procedures that are painful and often risky. For example, one common methodology for improving skin structure is a controlled form of skin wounding in which the outermost layer of skin (the epidermis) is removed. Although this form of treatment can be effective for some, it can also be very painful and introduces risks like infection, scarring, and changes in pigmentation (1).

Luckily, there is a painless, risk-free, and scientifically supported alternative to extreme dermatological procedures and expensive creams: Red light therapy. Research has shown that people treated with red light therapy report rapid improvements in skin softness and reductions in fine lines and wrinkles. For example, in multicenter study in which 90 people were treated with red light therapy, 90% of them showed clinical improvements in their skin after only 8 treatments (1). Red light’s ability to improve skin quality comes from its effect on collagen, one of the most important factors for strong healthy skin.

Collagen is one of the primary elements that make up the extracellular matrix of the dermis, meaning that it acts as a sort of scaffolding that gives your skin its structure, strength, and elasticity (5). As the quantity and structural integrity of collagen diminish, your skin loses its support system and wrinkles form. Factors such as age, estrogen levels, sun exposure, air pollution all affect dermal collagen, which is why all of the factors impact the look and feel of our skin (1,2,4,5). Red light therapy has been shown to increase dermal collagen content and to enhance the structural integrity of collagen fibers (2). Increased quality and quantity of collagen in the dermis strengthens and fortifies the extracellular matrix, leaving skin looking healthy and smooth.

The ability of red light to enhance dermal collagen is thought to arise from its interaction with the mitochondria in cells called fibroblasts (5). Fibroblasts are an essential component for strong, healthy skin because they synthesize collagen and help organize and maintain the extracellular matrix (7). Mitochondria are vital for fibroblast function because of their importance in cellular metabolism and respiration. If the mitochondria are damaged, fibroblasts would be unable to function properly. Conversely, if the mitochondria are enhanced, fibroblasts would become rockstar collagen creators and matrix supporters. This is exactly what scientists suspect red light does. By interacting with the mitochondria of these cells, red light enhances their function, leading to a denser, healthier, more organized matrix of collagen fibers and thus to smoother, stronger skin. This idea is supported by multiple lines of research. For example, when treated with red light, fibroblast cells suspended in a petri dish replicated faster and oriented to one another in a more organized way than fibroblasts that were not treated with red light (6). Another study, which examined the fibroblasts in a small sample of human tissue, found a greater number of mitochondria in the fibroblasts that came from people who received red light therapy compared to controls (8). The ability for red light to supercharge fibroblasts is especially important considering that fibroblast dysfunction is a prime suspect in the development of deep wrinkles.

Taking good care of ourselves isn’t easy, but when we don’t treat ourselves well it can make feeling beautiful really challenging. Our skin incurs daily damage throughout our lives and this damage becomes increasingly visible as we get older. While aging is something to be celebrated, not feared, we can aim to age well by protecting and nourishing our largest and most vulnerable organ, our skin. Red light therapy offers a safe, effective way to improve and sustain the quality of our skin. It’s a simple, scientifically-supported shortcut to loving ourselves well, so we can love ourselves well into the future. Beauty is feeling comfortable in our skin, so let’s treat it right.

Resources:

  1. Avci, P., et al (2013). Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Seminars in cutaneous medicine and surgery, 32(1), 41–52. Link
  2. Chung, J. H., et al (2001). Modulation of skin collagen metabolism in aged and photoaged human skin in vivo. Journal of investigative dermatology, 117(5): 1218-1224. Link
  3. Kim, M. A., et al (2017). The effects of sleep deprivation of the biophysical properties of facial skin. Journal of cosmetics, dermatological science and applications, 7, 34-47. Link
  4. Park, S., et al (2018). Air pollution, autophagy, and skin aging: impact of particulate matter (PM10) on human dermal fibroblasts. International journal of molecular science, 19(9), 2727. Link
  5. Raine-Fenning, et al (2003). Skin aging and menopause. American journal of clinical dermatology, 4(6): 371-378. Link
  6. Rigau, M.A., et al (1991) Changes in fibroblast proliferation and metabolism following in vitro helium-neon laser irradiation. Laser Therapy, 3(1), 25-33. Link
  7. Stunova, A. & Vistejnova, L. (2018). Dermal fibroblasts- a heterogeneous population with a regulatory function in wound healing, Cytokine and growth factors reviews, 39, 137-150. Link
  8. Takezaki et al (2005). Ultrastructural observations of human skin following irradiation with visible red light-emitting diodes (LEDs): A preliminary in vivo report. Laser Therapy, 14(4), 153-160. Link

As tempting as skipping leg day can be, skipping rest days is even more appealing. For everyone who is highly motivated to excel in their sport or their fitness goals, allowing adequate time for recovery between training can feel impossible. And for those of us who are just getting acquainted with the gym, multiple days marked by muscle pain and weakness can make building good exercise habits extremely difficult. The harsh truth is that regardless of whether you’re a power-lifter, yogi, or avid stationary cyclist, a hard workout requires recovery time. Anything we do that pushes the limits of our strength and endurance causes at least some temporary strain and damage to our muscles, otherwise known as muscle fatigue. If we deny ourselves adequate workout recovery time between trips to the gym, we can’t perform at our best, and if we skip too many rest days, fatigue can accumulate and put us at heightened risk for injury or overtraining.

In some cases, overtraining can take months or even years to recover from (1). Maximizing recovery efficiency is therefore critical for maximizing training efficiency. That is, if it takes less time for our muscles to recover after exercise, we can reach our goals faster. Red light therapy is an exciting approach to improving muscle recovery time that has become popular among elite athletes and sports professionals and has rapidly gained extensive scientific support over the last decade (1). Studies conducted in both animals and humans have demonstrated red-lights ability to influence the structural and metabolic changes associated with muscle fatigue (2). For example, red light therapy has been shown to reduce post-exercise blood lactate concentration (2). Lactate is a byproduct of the cellular metabolic changes associated with the development of fatigue. As energy demands on the muscle exceed energy production, changes in metabolic processes cause lactate to accumulate around the active muscle. The build-up of lactate is thought to inhibit the ability of the muscle to contract, resulting in a decline in performance (1). A 2011 study that evaluated lactate levels in 6 athletes after a challenging physical test found lower concentrations of blood lactate in athletes who received red-light therapy after the physical test compared to those who didn’t (3).

Similar results have been observed in animal models of muscle fatigue. For example, in a study conducted on the effects of low-level irradiation after exercise, Liu and colleagues (2009)  found reduced levels of inflammation after downhill running tasks in rats that received red light therapy compared to rats that did not (4). During exercise, especially if the activity is new or high intensity, the contraction of muscle fibers can cause microscopic tears in the tissue. These microlesions lead to an inflammatory response that can impair functional recovery and muscle remodeling and, ultimately, can increase the number of rest days you need (5).

Red light therapy has also been shown to reduce oxidative stress, another important biological feature of muscle fatigue (2). As you use your muscles to their maximum capacity, the cellular respiration process begins to produce harmful molecules known as free radicals. The effect free radicals have on your cells is what’s called oxidative stress. Exercise-related oxidative stress can reduce blood flow and can damage the cell’s mitochondria, both of which are critical for muscle recovery (1).

Research into red light’s influence on muscular recovery processes spans different members of the animal kingdom, forms of exercise, and training intensity levels. Across all this variety, post-exercise treatment with red light reliably impacts structural and metabolic processes associated with muscle fatigue (6). By reducing the harmful cellular by-products of exercise, red light therapy can accelerate recovery time. Though precise mechanisms for how red light reduces biomarkers of fatigue are still disputed, one common theory centers around the photosensitive nature of mitochondria. Because red light’s long wavelengths are able to penetrate through the skin and into the muscle tissue with minimal diffusion, it can interact directly with a cell’s light-reactive mitochondria (2). As you likely know, mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of the cell, meaning one of their main functions is to produce the energy that cells require to operate efficiently. Red light is thought to improve cellular respiration and energy-synthesis in mitochondria, which allows them to boost overall cellular function (2). By accelerating the cellular processes required for recovery, red light can facilitate full muscle recovery in less time.

For professional athletes and home-workout enthusiasts alike, optimal performance necessitates a balance between hard work and recovery time. The process of building strength and endurance is taxing all the way down to a cellular level, which is why our bodies require adequate rest. The amount of time required for recovery is thus a major limiting factor in how quickly we can arrive at our fitness and athletic goals. Red light therapy is a safe and scientifically supported approach to achieving maximum recovery in minimal time. Whether you’re just starting to build fitness habits or you’re training to dominate in competitions, red light therapy might be a great choice for you.

Resources:

  1. Forsey, Jillian Danielle (2020). The Effects of Acute Photobiomodulation on Anaerobic Exercise Performance. Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 7529. Link
  2. Ferraresi, C., Hamblin, M.R., & Parizotto, N.A. (2012). Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) on muscle tissue: performance, fatigue, and repair benefited by the power of light. Photonics and lasers in medicine. 1(4):267-286. Link
  3. Leal Junior EC, de Godoi V, Mancalossi JL, Rossi RP, De Marchi T, Parente M, Grosselli D, Generosi RA, Basso M, Frigo L, Tomazoni SS, Bjordal JM, Lopes-Martins RA. Comparison between cold water immersion therapy (CWIT) and light-emitting diode therapy (LEDT) in short-term skeletal muscle recovery after high-intensity exercise in athletes – preliminary results. Lasers Med Sci 2011;26(4):493–501. Link
  4. Liu, X.G., Zhou, Y.J., Liu, T.C., & Yuan, J.Q. (2009). Effects of low-level laser irradiation on rat skeletal muscle injury after eccentric exercise. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 27(6):863-869. Link
  5. Peak, J., Neubauer, O., Della Gatta, P., & Nosaka, K. (2016). Muscle damage and inflammation during recovery from exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 122: 559-570. Link
  6. Leal-Junior, E.C.P (2015). Photobiomodulation Therapy in Skeletal Muscle: From exercise performance to muscular dystrophy. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, 33(2). 53-54. Link
medical grade light therapy

What’s Red Light Therapy? Is it real?

Over the course of the past 5 years, I’ve had the opportunity to reinvent myself, change careers, take a sabbatical, live in Costa Rica, and work in the tech development industry in Silicon Valley. Through this time of self-reflection and reinvention, I’ve had the chance to spend significant amounts of time in sunny climates, and the importance of how light changes your biology has never been more clear to me.

As a consumer and self-proclaimed bio-hacker, once I was able to isolate the effects of light on my biology, I quickly realized the opportunity as I understood immediately how the introduction of light into your daily regimen can optimize your life. Over the course of my life, I’ve tried nearly every form optimization, and never have I felt the profound effects like red & near-infrared light therapy.

In this article, I highlight the evolution, the science, the technology and how I integrate red light therapy into my daily regimen.

How Does Light heal?

At its most basic level, light is pure energy. Made up of packets of energy called photons, light from sources like the sun power almost all biological processes on our planet. Without light, all living things on the planet would perish..

Light is also instrumental in keeping us at peak health. Ultraviolet or UV light has long been recognized as essential for vitamin D production in our skin which helps keep our bones strong. At a molecular level, there are literally dozens of mechanisms that are triggered via specific wavelengths of light.

for example, Cytochrome C Oxidase is a photoreceptor on the mitochondria that are triggered by light photons, specifically red and near-infrared wavelengths.

Why is Red & Infrared Light Therapy Important?

At the molecular level, these pathways and channels are affected by these specific wavelengths, which in turn activates (or optimizes) cellular process.

In other words, Red & Infrared Light Therapy triggers molecular events that then triggers cellular processes, which then affects our structural systems like muscles, brain, nerves, bones, hair, and skin. Basically, red and near-infrared light helps bulletproof YOU!

Don’t I get enough light from the Sun?

In 2015, I took the summer to ride my pedal bike across the country. I didn’t have a schedule and just took my time at my own pace. Needless to say, I was outdoors…. A LOT. I spent an average of 6 hours a day in the sun and developed a savage tan. After 4 months of riding my bike, I decided to move to Costa Rica to round out my sabbatical with something epic.

In retrospect, I didn’t understand the biological process of what was happening to my body, but during the bike ride, any ailments or issues I previously had, went away. I had almost zero inflammation, even after 4000+ miles of pedaling. Even in Costa Rica, I wasn’t aware of what was happening, as I thought my good mood and health was related to the fact that I was walking the beach everyday, surfing, sleeping amazing, and basically filming a Coruna commercial every day.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I came across red light therapy that I started to piece the puzzle together. As I investigated the science and bought a few of the lights that are available for At-Home treatments, I had the epiphany about the Sun and how light regulates our biological process. The quantity of light I was receiving during the bike ride and the Costa Rican adventure allowed my cells to be optimized, even though there were significant amounts of negative light (i.e. sunburn via UV radiation) that were being absorbed, the beneficial aspects were undeniable.

The science behind the magic relates to the wavelengths and quantity of each wavelength that is absorbed into our cells. With sunlight being full-spectrum, its impossible to balance the dosage (getting the correct quantity of beneficial wavelengths) for optimized health. However, technology now allows us to isolate the beneficial wavelengths that have been scientifically proven to improve health, while at the same time removing the negative wavelengths (UV, Blue, and Violet). So, all the positive vibes you have after going to the beach can be had at home with red and near-infrared light therapy.

Incorporating Light Therapy Into Your Life

Over the course of my life, I’ve always been a healthy well-balanced soul. I’ve experimented with intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, carnivore diets, long term fasting, competitive cycling, meditation retreats, and nothing has had such a profound effect on my health and well being as red & infrared light therapy.

I use my light 5 to 6 times a week. I set it up and position it near my work station shining from the side, as the light actually helps strengthen your eyes – truth be told, I’m using it right while I write this post.

I sometimes position the light next to my yoga mat and stretch and meditate in front of it. As you look online, you’ll see complicated formulas for distance and time, but due to the fact that there are ZERO negative side effects, I’ve found my approach of ‘any’ is better than ‘none’, and this keeps the positive effects front & center in my life.

Since incorporating light therapy into my life, my workouts have gotten better (testosterone improvements), I sleep deeper (optimized circadian rhythms), I’m more balanced (reduced depression), I get sick less (increased immunity), and my total perspective on life has improved (systemic improvements). In addition, I believe my skin is more resilient and younger-looking (collagen production).

Consistency Is Key

Since incorporating red & near-infrared light into my life, I’ve been a ‘fanboy’ of the technology, and have sold lots of lights to friends and family. Every time I discuss the process, I’m careful to advise that it takes time and consistency. For me personally, I think it took about 2-3 weeks before I started noticing the impact.

It’s an amazing time that we’re living in, and the ability for us to affect our physiology has never been greater. Like many reading about this technology (maybe for the first time), I suspect you may be skeptical. I would recommend that you take a look at some medical publications that walk through the technology, and the results/conclusions. A few of my favorites would be:

Last but not least, place a call-to-action at the bottom of your blog post. This should be to a lead-generating piece of content or to a sales-focused landing page for a demo or consultation.