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The science behind Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy is a relatively new treatment option that has been gaining rapid popularity. Upon first hearing about red light therapy, you are probably plagued with a wide variety of questions. With so many scientific terms and hard-to-pronounce words such as “Photobiomodulation, ” you’re likely scratching your head.

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered in this deep dive into red light therapy. We’ll cover exactly what red light therapy is, the science of how it works, and who can benefit from it.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red Light Therapy is also generally referred to as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation therapy. Despite the differences in names, all these therapy treatment options are very closely linked to one another. Red light therapy is the process in which red and near-infrared light is applied to various parts of the body. It is an entirely safe, painless, and natural treatment for a wide variety of ailments and physiological concerns.

Red light therapy involves using a tool that emits these wavelengths with particular LED light bulbs. These specially created light instruments can range in size from handheld to large enough to emit light that would cover your entire body. Depending upon what part of the body needs treatment, various red light therapy tools are available. The variety of tools available means that devices can target the patient’s specific needs and provide the best results possible.

This treatment process was first discovered in 1967 by Endre Mester at the Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary. Mester had pondered if lasers could cause cancer. To his surprise, his results yielded a shocking discovery that later became known as “laser biostimulation.” Mester had conducted a study on two groups of shaved rats, one of which he exposed to lower-powered red light. In the group exposed to the laser, not only did they not get cancer, but their fur actually grew back faster.

What are the benefits?

Since its initial use, red light therapy has been an increasingly popular treatment primarily due to its quick and painless results. In order to better understand why this treatment has become so popular, here are some of the many benefits of red light therapy:
Stimulates healing for quicker, faster recovery
Aids in pain reduction
Helps with neurological issues such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Elevates mood and sense of well-being
Boosts the immune system response
Helps with signs of skin tissue aging

The science that supports the technology used for therapy

With such a vast and diverse range of benefits, red light therapy has seen massive increases in the number of scientific studies to understand better how and why it works so well. As of today, there have been over ten thousand scientific studies completed. With their research, there is a mountain of evidence to support their claims. To better understand why red light therapy works, we’ll further dive into how low light therapy works and how cells respond when provided with this therapy.

How does Red Light Therapy work?

Red light therapy is also commonly referred to as low-level light therapy (LLLT). Both photobiomodulation therapies utilize the science of red light but in slightly different ways. One uses LED lights, and the other uses lasers. To understand the difference, consider this, the Sun emits light at all frequencies. LED lights emit the same wavelength of color but in a non-coherent way. Laser lights emit only one wavelength of light in a coherent way.

Red light therapy is commonly associated with therapy techniques that utilize LED lights affixed to a device. For any therapy to be considered LLLT, it must use only laser lights. These laser lights only emit between 600nm to 1000nm and are not as powerful as surgical lasers. Neither the red light therapy LED lights nor the LLLT lasers will generate heat.

The devices used for red light therapy are specially outfitted with LED light bulbs that emit only specific bands of wavelengths. These LED lights only produce red and near-infrared wavelengths. The wavelengths these devices emit are measured in nanometers (nm). They can range from 620 to 660nm for visible red light and 810-850nm for near-infrared light.

The higher wavelength light bulbs are more typically used in offices for their ability to deliver more therapeutic results. It is imperative that only specific wavelengths of light can be emitted from these devices. This ensures that the laser lights are non-invasive and completely safe to use.

The lack of heat generated by both the LED red light therapy devices and LLLT lasers means cells do not increase in temperature. In addition, no adverse side effects have been discovered from utilizing this therapy. Red light therapy is very safe for patients seeking treatment.

What happens to the body when exposed to light therapy?

When effective treatment is used, the body’s cells will improve their metabolism and experience a reduction of inflammation. Cells in the body respond to light therapy via a photochemical response. When red and infrared light is applied to a treatment sight, the light will increase cellular adenosine triphosphate or ATP in that area. ATP is made in the cell’s mitochondria. You may remember from biology class, “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!”

When our cells are stressed out, our ATP does not work as well as it should. Nitric oxide molecules will bond to the ATP, and as a result, our cells do not perform as well. As light is penetrated into the cell’s mitochondria, the nitric oxide molecules that are inhibiting the ATP will detach from the ATP and instead bind to oxygen molecules. As a result, the mitochondria and ATP resume working effectively.

When the nitric oxide molecules pass out of the cells, they behave like a vasodilator. Blood flow is then encouraged to the treatment site and surrounding areas. As this happens, the communication between the cell’s nucleus and the rest of its parts begins to signal at optimal rates.

Photochemical reactions within cells somewhat resemble the photosynthesis of plants. Photochemical responses at the cellular level aid cells in working at their total capacity. As a result, this increases the cell’s energy. The result of increased blood flow to the area allows for inflammation and pain to be reduced.

Who can experience the benefits of using Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy can benefit everyone as a pain-free solution to a myriad health ailments and mood conditions. It is ideal for anyone looking to reduce pain and inflammation and increase their body’s ability to heal itself. Red Light therapy is also a fantastic choice for people who are seeking treatment outside of pharmaceuticals or surgery options.

While the following list does not include all the individual categories of people who have seen the benefits of red light therapy, this list does boast some of the patient groups that have all seen success and health benefits after starting this type of treatment.
  • Patients with Fibromyalgia

    Light therapy is an effective treatment option for people who have fibromyalgia or postherpetic neuralgia. These problematic and challenging-to-treat conditions are often debilitating. If left untreated, pain can continue and become a long-term and ongoing problem.

    Patients searching for a pain management solution are wise to consider LLLT. When red light therapy is targeted to the painful trigger points associated with fibromyalgia, patients have seen a dramatic decrease in their pain levels. This aids them in their recovery and encourages the reversal of their painful and exhausting condition.
  • People seeking skin rejuvenation

    Light therapy is a valuable and non-invasive treatment plan for those looking to combat signs of aging. Red light therapy helps to restore the skin’s youthful appearance by increasing cell regeneration. Sun exposure is a major cause of skin aging and the appearance of sagging skin. Red light therapy combats signs of aging by increasing collagen levels and improving skin elasticity.

    Red light therapy can assist in reducing wrinkle appearance by increasing collagen levels of the skin. As a result, skin elasticity is improved. LLLT is an excellent choice for people looking to improve their skin’s appearance with no reported side effects and no downtime for treatment.

    In addition to LLLT, red light therapy is becoming quickly popular amongst people looking to achieve a more youthful glow. Today, there are specially designed light therapy devices that specifically target wrinkles and other signs of
    skin aging.
  • Those with mood disorders

    Studies boast the benefits of red light therapy to help boost mood, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep quality by increasing melatonin levels. With mental health becoming more widely discussed, it is essential to know all the available treatment options available.

    Red light therapy’s ability to improve cellular functions means that it also increases cognitive functions as well. Effective treatment can help alleviate problems associated with depression and anxiety. In terms of improving mental health and wellness, red light therapy can be a benefit to all the following aspects:

    • Boosting energy levels
    • Effectively reduces anxiety
    • Maintaining a balanced mood
    • Clear mental cognition
    • Combats seasonal depression
  • Patients with neurological problems

    Light therapy has shown success in combating mild to moderate dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms. A hypothesis for the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is amyloid deposits in the brain. These deposits consist of an abnormal group of proteins and cause neural damage. Light therapy has proven to be able to successfully decrease the volume of these deposits in neuroblastoma cells.

    After utilizing red light therapy treatments, patients saw a significant improvement in assessment scores used to examine the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Patients also experienced various improvements in their physical and emotional well-being. They reported having improved sleep, decreased anxiety, and better overall fitness, and there were no adverse side effects were reported.
  • Wound healing and muscle recovery

    Arguably one of the most popular reasons for seeking LLLT or red light therapy; bodily injuries, painful joints, and other soft tissue problems lead many people to discover its benefits. From frustrating low back pain to arthritis, studies repeatedly show the benefits of red light therapy to be used as an effective treatment for healing the body.

    Both red and near-infrared light therapy has proven effective in promoting the healing of skin wounds. Phototherapy has repeatedly demonstrated itself as beneficial for wound treatment by decreasing inflammation while stimulating an increase in collagen production and angiogenesis. Depending on the type of skin or muscle damage a person is struggling with, LED red light therapy devices or LLLT infrared tools will be used based on the appropriate treatment options.

     In addition to the ability to generate rapid body healing, red light therapy is also advantageous for muscle recovery. Surprisingly, studies suggest that red light therapy, both before and after physical activity, may increase athletic performance! Phototherapy benefits athletes because it increases muscle mass that is attained after training while lowering the

Conclusion

Red Light therapy is supported by science and has thousands of scientific research studies to support its claims. As a non-invasive treatment, it is an ideal option for anyone looking to better their health. From chronic inflammation to mood disorders, red light therapy can help benefit everyone. With targeted treatments available, you can expect to see results quickly.


LLLT works by increasing cellular regeneration and improving the cell’s ability to function. These improvements allow for various improvements in health and wellness. With no downtime associated with treatment, it is an easy way to better your overall health and wellness. If you’re looking for a science-supported treatment option that does not require invasive surgery or pharmaceutical medicines, then red light therapy is the solution you are seeking.
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