Feeling Stressed or Sad? Prescribe Yourself the Forgotten Remedy of Red Light Therapies

Feeling Stressed or Sad? Prescribe Yourself the Forgotten Remedy of Red Light Therapies

Who doesn't feel like their daily routine sometimes gets the best of them? Between work, family responsibilities and all the stressful updates on our screens, it's easy to feel weighed down. And while popping pills or scheduling therapy sessions can help, there may be an easier solution you haven't considered. 

Red light therapy is a natural wellness technique that's gaining popularity as a way to relieve stress and lift moods. Done with simple at-home devices, RLT works by exposing the body to certain wavelengths of red and near-infrared light. Early research suggests this can decrease depression, reduce anxiety and even help you sleep better. 

Curious how a few minutes of lighting could make such a difference in how you feel day-to-day? Read on to find out exactly what red light therapy is and how it may help you find more balance without a big time commitment or financial investment. The low-effort way to a healthier state of mind could be as easy as flipping a switch. 

What is Red Light Therapy? 

Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy (LLLT), is a therapeutic technique that uses low-level wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to promote healing and well-being. Originally discovered accidentally in 1967 by Endre Mester at Semmelweis Medical University in Budapest, RLT was found to help promote hair growth and wound healing in rats[1][2]. 

Since then, RLT has been studied for a wide range of potential applications, from treating skin conditions and reducing inflammation to promoting muscle recovery and even improving cognitive function. While the research is still ongoing, the potential benefits of this non-invasive, drug-free therapy are hard to ignore. 

How Does Red Light Therapy Work? 

At its core, RLT works by exposing the body to low levels of specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light. At these low wavelengths, the light doesn't generate heat and can penetrate the skin by 1 to 2 millimeters, according to a 2013 study[3].

Once absorbed by the body, this light is believed to produce a positive biochemical effect in our cells, strengthening the mitochondria – the powerhouses responsible for producing the energy that drives cellular function. By increasing the energy output of the mitochondria, RLT may help cells function more efficiently, repair themselves, and even rejuvenate[3][4]. 

One of the key mechanisms behind RLT's potential benefits is its ability to increase the transportation of electrons, oxygen consumption, and levels of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – the primary energy currency of our cells. By boosting these essential processes, RLT may help reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and promote the production of collagen and fibroblasts, which are essential for wound healing and tissue repair[4][5]. 

The Many Potential Benefits of Red Light Therapy 

While more research is still needed, the potential benefits of RLT are wide-ranging and impressive. According to a 2018 review of research, many studies suggest promising results for the use of RLT, although it remains somewhat controversial due to the need for additional clinical research[4]. 

Here are some of the potential benefits that have been explored in various studies over the past 20 years[4]: 

  1. Promoting Wound Healing and Tissue Repair: Several studies have suggested that RLT may help accelerate the healing of wounds and injuries by increasing blood flow, reducing inflammation, and stimulating the production of collagen and fibroblasts. 
  2. Reducing Side Effects of Cancer Treatment: RLT has been investigated as a potential way to reduce some of the side effects of cancer treatment, such as oral mucositis, radiation dermatitis, and lymphedema. 
  3. Improving Hair Growth: Some research has indicated that RLT may help improve hair growth in people with androgenic alopecia (male and female pattern baldness).
  4.  Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A few studies have found that RLT may provide short-term relief for carpal tunnel syndrome, a common condition characterized by pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm. 
  5. Reducing Myopia Progression: Interestingly, RLT has been explored as a potential way to slow down the progression of myopia (nearsightedness) in children and adolescents. 
  6. Reducing Psoriasis Lesions and Burn Scars: RLT has shown promise in reducing the severity of psoriasis lesions and improving the appearance of burn scars.
  7.  Relieving Neuropathic Pain: Some research has suggested that RLT may help alleviate neuropathic pain, a type of chronic pain caused by damage or dysfunction of the nervous system. 
  8. Improving Neural Function and Protection: There is evidence that RLT may improve cognitive function, memory, and neural protection, potentially benefiting individuals with conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
  9. Improving Skin Complexion and Reducing Wrinkles: By stimulating collagen production and improving tissue repair, RLT may help improve skin complexion and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 
  10. Relieving Pain and Inflammation: Several studies have explored the potential of RLT to reduce pain and inflammation, particularly in conditions like Achilles tendinitis. 

While these potential benefits are exciting, it's important to note that more rigorous clinical research is still needed to fully understand and validate the efficacy of RLT for various conditions. However, the existing research paints a promising picture of a safe, non-invasive therapy with the potential to improve overall health and well-being.

The Safety and Risks of Red Light Therapy 

One of the appealing aspects of RLT is its generally safe and painless nature. Unlike many medical treatments, RLT does not involve drugs, surgery, or ionizing radiation, making it a relatively low-risk option for those seeking alternative therapies. 

However, as with any treatment, there are some potential risks and side effects to be aware of. While rare, some people have reported experiencing burns, lesions, or blistering after using RLT devices, particularly if they fell asleep with the device in place or if the device had faulty wiring or corrosion[5]. 

Additionally, proper eye protection should be worn during RLT sessions, as there is a potential risk of eye damage from prolonged exposure to the light. 

It's also important to note that while some studies suggest RLT may help manage side effects of cancer treatment, there is no clear consensus among experts on whether RLT is beneficial or potentially harmful for cancer treatment itself. Some research has even suggested that RLT may increase cancer cell aggression and tumor recurrences, so individuals with cancer or a history of cancer should exercise caution and consult with their healthcare providers before considering RLT[6]. 

Accessing Red Light Therapy 

As interest in RLT continues to grow, it is becoming more widely available in various settings. Some tanning salons, gyms, and local day spas now offer RLT treatments, often marketed as a way to reduce signs of aging or improve skin complexion. 

Additionally, FDA-approved RLT devices are available for purchase online, allowing individuals to explore this therapy from the comfort of their own homes. However, it's crucial to exercise caution when purchasing and using these devices, as improper use or faulty equipment can lead to potential risks like burns or eye damage.

Before starting any RLT treatment, it's highly recommended to speak with a healthcare professional. They can help assess your specific condition, discuss the potential risks and benefits, and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your needs. Many healthcare providers may also offer RLT as part of their services, providing professional guidance and supervision throughout the process. 

The Need for Further Research 

While the existing research on RLT is promising, it's important to acknowledge that there is still a lack of consensus among the scientific community regarding its full efficacy and potential applications. Many of the clinical trials conducted thus far have been relatively small in scale or have focused primarily on animal models rather than human subjects. 

As with any emerging therapy, more rigorous, large-scale clinical studies are needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind RLT, its optimal treatment parameters, and its effectiveness in treating various conditions. Additionally, research is needed to explore potential long-term effects and interactions with other treatments or medications. 

Despite these knowledge gaps, the growing body of evidence supporting RLT's potential benefits has captured the attention of researchers, healthcare providers, and individuals seeking alternative therapies. As more studies are conducted and the understanding of RLT deepens, it is likely that this non-invasive, drug-free approach will continue to gain momentum and potentially become a more widely accepted and integrated part of healthcare. 

A Ray of Hope in a Stressful World 

It seems like everywhere you look nowadays, people are stressed out, anxious, and feeling down. While medications and therapy can definitely help, a lot of folks are looking for other natural choices too. 

Red light therapy is one option that's showing promise. By using certain colors of light, it aims to make you feel better both physically and mentally. Early research shows it may lower cortisol (the stress hormone), improve your mood, and help you sleep better - all of which can do wonders for how you cope with daily pressures and demands. 

Unlike meds, red light therapy doesn't come with side effects either. You just sit or stand in front of a machine for a few minutes and let the light do its thing. Proponents say it reduces inflammation, promotes healing, and gives your whole body a boost. 

For anyone who feels like modern life has them running in the fast lane non-stop, red light therapy sounds like it could offer a calming ray of hope. It's a simple, side effect-free thing to try if you're looking for ways to regain your balance and feel less stressed. Sometimes the solutions don't need to be complicated. A little self-care like this might make all the difference.


[1] Hamblin, Michael R. “Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders.” BBA clinical vol. 6 113-124. 1 Oct. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.09.002 

[2] Heiskanen, Vladimir, and Michael R Hamblin. “Photobiomodulation: lasers vs. light emitting diodes?.” Photochemical & photobiological sciences : Official journal of the European Photochemistry Association and the European Society for Photobiology vol. 17,8 (2018): 1003-1017. doi:10.1039/c8pp90049c 

[3] Avci, Pinar et al. “Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring.” Seminars in cutaneous medicine and surgery vol. 32,1 (2013): 41-52. 

[4] Heiskanen, Vladimir, and Michael R Hamblin. “Photobiomodulation: lasers vs. light emitting diodes?.” Photochemical & photobiological sciences : Official journal of the European Photochemistry Association and the European Society for Photobiology vol. 17,8 (2018): 1003-1017. doi:10.1039/c8pp90049c 

[5] “NCA - Infrared Therapy Devices (CAG-00291N) - Decision Memo.” Cms.gov, 2024, www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/view/ncacal-decision-memo.aspx?proposed=N&NCAId=176&NcaName=Infrared+Therapy+Devices&DocID=CAG-00291N&id=176&bc=gAAAAAgA AgAAAA==&. 

[6] Hamblin, Michael R et al. “Photobiomodulation and Cancer: What Is the Truth?.” Photomedicine and laser surgery vol. 36,5 (2018): 241-245. doi:10.1089/pho.2017.4401

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