Red Light Therapy, also called photobiomodulation (PBM) is helpful for everything from thyroid function to wound healing and it has well-documented healing and rejuvenating effects on the body.
Some of the applications that have been studied are:
- Increase Collagen and Elastin Production – These are the main proteins that provide structural support for our skin. Collagen provides suppleness, while elastin provides elasticity. (2)
- Fat Metabolism – Although the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood, red light therapy increases the body’s ability to metabolize fat. It may be due to its ability to disperse (some day melt) adipocytes, which are cells that store fat (3)
- Increasing Energy Levels – As we’ll discuss in the next section, red light therapy generates cellular energy, thus increasing overall energy levels.
- Detoxication Support – Red light therapy causes an increase in lymphatic system activity, which assists with detoxification (4)
The science of how our bodies metabolize light to achieve these benefits centres around something called cytochrome c oxidase.
What is Red Light Therapy? (Photobiomodulation)
Just like plants convert light energy into chemical energy via photosynthesis, our bodies have the ability to metabolize red and near-infrared light into a form of cellular energy – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – that is essential to restoring, repairing, energizing, and maintaining our bodies.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is often referred to as the “energy currency of life”. We can go for a period of time without food, water, and even air, but if our bodies were deprived of ATP for even seconds life could not continue.
The recipe for this “energy currency” hinges on an enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase. It’s the glue that makes ATP by helping oxygen (O) bind with nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and hydrogen (H) to form NADH, the hydrogen ions that make ATP synthase.
Unfortunately when we are stressed, sick, or injured, our cells produce excessive amounts of nitric oxide, which “steals” cytochrome c oxidase by binding with it so that it can’t do its job. Without enough cytochrome c oxidase to help bind together the oxygen and NADH, our capacity to make ATP is reduced.
Without sufficient ATP, our body’s ability to make collagen, metabolize fat, synthesize hormones and perform other tasks diminishes. We started to feel tired. We find that we aren’t bouncing back from stress or illness as quickly. We aren’t able to repair and heal as well as we’d like.
Red light and near infrared light works by breaking the bond between nitric oxide and cytochrome c oxidase, thus freeing up the cytochrome c oxidase to make ATP.
Not just any light, though – you need the right wavelengths and intensity. Red light in the 630-670 nanometer (nm) range and near-infrared light in the 810-880 nm range are recommended because they have the most documented benefits.
Increases Collagen Production and Skin Repair
As you can see in the image above, red and near-infrared light penetrate deeper into skin than other colours, which allows their healing wavelengths to:
- Improve skin clarity, tone and texture (3)
- Increase collagen (which provides suppleness) and elastin (which provides elasticity) (2)
- Assist with fading of scars (including acne scars) and stretch marks (5)
- Several studies have also found red and near-infrared wavelengths helpful for healing sun damage (11)
Mechanisms of Low Level Light Therapy
6 Clinical Studies that Support the Anti-Aging Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Hair Growth, Thickness and Shine
Several studies have found that red light therapy can increase hair follicle activity. For example, in this analysis, hair thickness, density and shine were improved with light therapy.
Supports Detoxification and Circulation
Photobiomodulation stimulates an increase in lymphatic system activity which assists with detoxification. It also increases circulation via the formation of new capillaries, allowing more blood and oxygen to deliver nutrients throughout the body (6)
Optimizes Metabolism and Energy Levels
Although the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood, red light therapy increases the body’s ability to metabolize fat. It may be due to its ability to disperse (some say melt) adipocytes, which are cells that store fat.
Our mitochondria are the source of true vitality within our bodies. They’re the powerhouses that make our cellular engines run, and more robust they are the more energy we have to work with every day.
Supports Healing And Recovery
Because it stimulates the production of ATP that restores, repairs, energizes, and maintains our bodies, red light therapy can be helpful for:
- Reducing discomfort in the neck, back and joints
- Faster wound healing
- Faster muscle recovery
- Enhancing athletic performance