If there was a pill which could boost your health, increase testosterone, sharpen your mind and supercharge your athletic abilities … you’d take it, right?
Especially if there were no negative side effects … and the pill was cheap?
Well, there is something like that.
But instead of a pill you pop in your mouth, it’s a special type of light. Scientists call treatment with this special type of light “photobiomodulation” (or “PBM”), and they used to call it “low level light therapy” (or “LLLT”). Or some people simply call it “red light therapy”.
If this sounds crazy, remember that our bodies evolved to make Vitamin D from a specific type of light (specifically, the ultraviolet light coming from the sun). And scientists say that the blue light from your devices can damage your eyes and may cause severe health problems. So it is clear that light has an effect on us.
Thousands of Scientific Studies from All Over the World Demonstrate the Power of This Approach
Let’s jump right into the scientific proof that this approach is incredibly powerful for a vast range of conditions. We will link to the scientific studies, and note the academic institutions with which the researchers are affiliated.
Improves Athletic and Sports Performance
Top U.S. Olympic athletes state that PBM helps their performance. See this video, and then watch this one.
Many studies show that PBM can assist in athletic performance:
- Provides an advantage in sports performance (Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Universidade do Sagrado Coração)
- Promotes mucle regeneration (Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Federal University of São Carlos, Universidade de São Paulo)
Good for the Brain
- Researchers at the Department of Psychology and Institute for Neuroscience, University of Texas at Austin found:
“LLLT improves prefrontal cortex-related cognitive functions, such as sustained attention, extinction memory, working memory, and affective state. Transcranial infrared stimulation may be used efficaciously to support neuronal mitochondrial respiration as a new non-invasive, cognition-improving intervention in animals and humans. This fascinating new approach should also be able to influence other brain functions …”
“LLLT supplies the brain with metabolic energy in a way analogous to the conversion of nutrients into metabolic energy, but with light instead of nutrients providing the source for ATP-based metabolic energy.”
- Helps with dementia (Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital)
- Helps with Parkinson’s (Lausanne University Hospital, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, with funding from Swiss National Science Foundation)
Studies from North Carolina State University, U.S. National Cancer Institute, College of Medical Sciences in Nepal, NRS Medical College and Dankook University, and the Wallace Memorial Baptist Hospital show that PBM may significantly increase testosterone levels in males.
Helps Prevent Macular Degeneration
Good for the Skin
- It’s good for the skin (Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Defence Institute of Physiology & Allied Sciences, India, Aripam Medical Center, Israel):
“In dermatology, LLLT has beneficial effects on wrinkles, acne scars, hypertrophic scars, and healing of burns. LLLT can reduce UV damage both as a treatment and as a prophylaxis. In pigmentary disorders such as vitiligo, LLLT can increase pigmentation by stimulating melanocyte proliferation and reduce depigmentation by inhibiting autoimmunity. Inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and acne can also benefit.”
- Reduces wrinkles (Medical Light Consulting, Heidelberg, Germany, International GmbH, Windhagen, Germany)
Mood and Depression
Protects the Heart
Helps Teeth and Gums
- Helps heal bone defects after grafts (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul)
- Reduces pain in mouth (Urmia University of Medical Sciences)
Assists with Weight Loss
- The University of Sao Paulo Medical School has shown that PBM can help with thyroid conditions.
Joint Pain and Arthritis
Other Healing Effects
Studies have shown many other beneficial effects from PBM, including:
- Reduces tinnitus (University of Manchester, Weill Cornell Medical College, Rumaillah Hospital and Hamad General Hospital)
- Reduces baldness in men and women (various)
Indeed, an FDA scientists said at a recent conference that PBM showed positive effects on virtually every health condition studied so far.
(And the articles listed above are just a sample … I have collected hundreds of other links to scientific articles on the health benefits of PBM. But spamming you with links would be boring. And scientists such as Hamblin have written definitive summaries of the topic.)
How Was This Discovered?
The discovery of PBM – like many great scientific discoveries – was largely an accident …
Emeritus Professor, Radiation Oncology (Radiation Biology) Stanford University School of Medicine, Kendric C. Smith, notes:
“The father of phototherapy is Niels Ryberg Finsen, who first used sunlight, and then red light, to treat patients with smallpox in the 1800’s. He received a Nobel Prize in 1903.”
In 1967, professor of surgery at Pazmany Peter University in Budapest named Endre Mester experimented on rats and mice to try to induce cancer with lasers. He shaved the mice, and then shot a red laser at them. To his surprise, the red laser didn’t induce cancer … instead hair grew back faster on the animals.
In the 1990’s, NASA ran experiments to see if LED lights could help plants grow onboard the space shuttle. But the astronauts soon noticed that the lights helped their wounds heal more quickly.
“Tiny light-emitting diode (LED) chips used to grow plants in space are lighting the way for cancer treatment, wound healing, and chronic pain alleviation on Earth.”
Evolutionary Basis for the Health Benefits of Red Light
What possible mechanism could explain the incredibly diverse positive effects from PBM? What possible evolutionary explanation is there for this treatment?
Our bodies evolved to consume certain materials to stay healthy. For example, we evolved to eat protein and drink water … so we need both to maintain health. Scientists have recently learned that our bodies also evolved to consume omega 3 fatty acids, and as mentioned above, to make Vitamin D from UV light.
The sunlight shining on our ancestors’ and our bodies is comprised mainly of red and near infrared light between around and nanometers:
Source: Nick84, CC BY-SA 3.0
As NASA discovered with its red light experiments, red light helps plants to grow. And a new study from researchers from the U.S. and Finland show that virtually all life-forms respond favorably to light. They note:
“Veterinarians routinely use PBM to treat non-mammalian patients. The conclusion is that red or NIR light does indeed have significant biological effects conserved over many different kingdoms, and perhaps it is true that “all life-forms respond to light”.
Our ancestors were outside a lot. Many of them woke up shortly before dawn, and went to sleep shortly after dusk. So they got exposed to a lot of natural light … not only bright overhead white sunlight, but also the red wavelengths in the sunrise and sunset.
So maybe we evolved to get a lot of exposure to red light. The fact that plants and other organisms seem to be positively effected by red light would support that argument.
But that still doesn’t explain why red light applied to the inside of the body has beneficial effects. Specifically, red light shined inside the nose or – according to Chinese and Russian tests – directly into the bloodstream, have positive effects.
How could this be?
Scientists have proven that red light boosts the production of ATP by mitochondria, which are the powerhouses in our cells. Every cell in our body (other than red blood cells) contain mitochondria.
Now here’s my personal theory …
Mitochondria may originally have been photosynthetic bacteria. For example, a top evolutionary biologist – Oxford professor of evolutionary biology Thomas Cavalier-Smith – argues:
[T]he first enslavement step [of the bacteria which would become mitochondria by larger organisms which would eventually evolve into humans] was uptake of a host carrier protein through the outer membrane (OM) and its insertion into the inner, cytoplasmic membrane (IM) of a photosynthetic purple bacterium that escaped into the host cell’s cytoplasm from the food vacuole into which it was initially phagocytosed.
Studies show that photosynthetic purple bacteria utilize similar wavelengths to those used in PBM.
So while I obviously don’t know why PBM does so many helpful things, my hypothesis is that PBM taps into latent abilities of our mitochondria … that may have lain untapped for millions of years.
While this may sound whacky, the Harvard Medical School professor who wrote the book (actually severalof them) on PBM, Dr. Michael Hamblin, told me “I think there is something in your theory”.
Postscript: In a separate article, I will discuss various ways to use PBM and get exposure to red light therapy.