According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100 million adults in the United States suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes. A chronic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (blood sugar), diabetes develops because the body doesn’t make enough insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Low levels of insulin cause glucose to build up in the blood, which can result in a variety of health problems, some severe.
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Whichever type you may have, light therapy could possibly be the treatment solution you’ve been looking for. In this article we’ll explore red light and near-infrared (NIR) light for diabetes: a novel solution that helps treat complications of this disease at the cellular level—healing from the inside out.
Red and Near-Infrared Light for Diabetes
While some people with type 2 diabetes (also called adult-onset diabetes) can achieve target blood sugar levels with lifestyle changes, diabetes medications or insulin therapy may also be needed to control blood sugar, and many medications cause serious side effects. Diabetes has no cure, and management of symptoms is the only way to coax the disease into remission.
Red and NIR light have been used successfully to treat the complications associated with diabetes. Before we delve into that, let’s do a quick overview of what this treatment method actually is.
Red light therapy, which is also called low-level light therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, is an umbrella term that refers to red light and NIR light. It uses powerful light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs to deliver intense beams of red and NIR wavelengths to bare skin. To date, more than 3,000 clinical studies have been conducted on red light therapy and its effectiveness at treating numerous conditions and disorders. This body of research has led scientists to conclude that certain wavelengths are more beneficial to the human body than others.
Wavelengths of light are measured in nanometers (nm). Research has shown that red wavelengths from 630nm to 660nm, and NIR wavelengths from 810nm to 850nm, have the greatest scope of benefits—and come with no side effects.
Although studies often focus on either red or near-infrared wavelengths, experts say the best treatment approach is to use both. Doing so will provide skin-deep as well as deep-tissue benefits. For example, the 630nm to 660nm wavelengths address the health of the skin, and the longer 810nm to 850nm NIR wavelengths penetrate deeper into the body. NIR wavelengths can even penetrate bone and hard connective tissue like cartilage.
Now we’ll examine how red light therapy can treat diabetic symptoms.
Increase Capillary Formation for Improved Blood Flow
Thomas Burke, PhD, a retired physiologist with the University of Colorado Medical School, has studied blood flow—specifically changes in blood flow—for more than 30 years. Dr. Burke’s extensive research into the effects of red light therapy on circulation has led him to conclude that infrared light increases blood flow in any site in the body to which it is applied. This has profound implications for the treatment of slow-healing wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers, which affect approximately 15 percent of patients with diabetes.
One effect of diabetes is extremely low amounts of nitric oxide produced by the body, which hinders normal blood flow. This is one reason diabetics often develop a circulatory condition called peripheral arterial disease, in which narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the limbs. Many diabetes patients also develop diabetic neuropathy, a peripheral nervous system disorder that causes loss of feeling in the extremities, especially the feet.
The combination of poor blood flow and neuropathy can make diabetics more susceptible to ulcers or infections in the feet that, if allowed to spread, may require extreme measures such as amputation. LLLT can help circulation by stimulating the formation of tiny capillaries in areas treated by the light. This allows for better oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body’s peripheral regions, including the feet, which seem to bear the brunt of diabetic complications.
Increased Cellular Metabolism and Energy
The decreased blood flow that’s characteristic of diabetes interferes with proper functioning of mitochondria, which are the “energy factories” inside most cells of the body. When mitochondria are functioning normally, their primary job is to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-rich molecule that serves as fuel for cells. ATP is essential for normal cellular functioning, including repair and replication.
Poor cellular energy, officially known as mitochondrial dysfunction, is one of the main causes of diabetic neuropathy, so restoring normal mitochondrial function is essential. When there’s a chronic blood sugar imbalance, cells become stressed, unable to function properly, and unable to repair themselves.
Low-level light therapy addresses mitochondrial dysfunction by increasing ATP production. This, in turn, energizes cells and sparks a chain reaction of beneficial biological processes and improved health. When mitochondrial function is returned to normal, it supports healing of skin ulcers and neuropathic pain, and helps to restore normal peripheral nervous system functioning.
Restored Normal Nerve Functioning
Until LLLT was developed, loss of sensation in the feet of diabetics was considered progressive and irreversible. Even today, the recommended treatment is often anti-inflammatory drugs that interrupt pain pathways. Yet these drugs do not address the underlying problem: abnormal nerve signalling due to inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Today, diabetic neuropathy can be treated using near-infrared light. According to a 2015 study by a team of medical researchers from Iran, NIR light therapy effectively reduces neuropathic pain and promotes regeneration of damaged nerve cells.
An earlier study by researchers from Japan also focused on LLLT’s effects on nerve regeneration. It is known that disrupted blood sugar levels can lead to oxidative stress, which can cause inflammation. The study revealed that NIR light acts as an antioxidant and reduces inflammation, which may be conducive to nerve regeneration.
Increased Collagen Production
Diabetes can cause uncomfortable, often painful changes in the skin including severe dryness, peeling, cracking, and abnormal callus growth. Red light therapy boosts the body’s natural collagen production so that as skin cells are renewed, the damaged skin can be gradually replaced by healthy skin. Improved blood flow and cellular functioning also support healthy skin growth.
Reduced Inflammation for Faster Wound Healing
Diabetic foot ulcers may form due to a combination of poor circulation, immune system deficiency that makes it hard for the body to fight off infection, diminished foot sensitivity (diabetic neuropathy), and ill-fitting shoes. Infected and dead tissue will need to be removed, and the growth of healthy new tissue needs to be supported with blood sugar management, as well as optimal mitochondrial functioning and collagen production.
LLLT powerfully stimulates healing of skin wounds. The wound-healing biological effects of red/NIR light include reducing inflammation, increasing blood flow, and stimulating collagen synthesis.
A Stronger Immune System
Improving health requires a robust immune system, and LLLT can help in a number of significant ways. For instance, it stimulates production of stem cells, which are the body’s master cells with the potential to develop into many different types of cells. Stem cells remain in a dormant, non-specialized state until they are needed, when they are mobilized into action and carried to various parts of the body where they take on specialized roles.
Also essential for a healthy immune system is the thyroid, which LLLT helps to balance. People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing disorders such as hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid. Hypothyroidism results in mitochondrial dysfunction and poor cell functioning.
In addition, research has shown that LLLT supports liver regeneration for more efficient waste disposal. This helps treat systemic inflammation and supports the workings of the immune system.Less Depression and Better Sleep
Major depression and type 2 diabetes often co-occur because of a poor prognosis and treatment challenges. For a 2010 study, a team of researchers from the Netherlands examined the connection between depression and sleep disorders due to disturbances in the biological clock, which is also involved in regulating glucose metabolism.
LLLT has been used effectively to treat depression and to reset the circadian rhythm. Research physician Annelise Breuwer, head researcher in a study on the effects of light therapy on diabetics said: “If light therapy effectively improves mood and insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes patients with a major depressive episode, light therapy may be a valuable patient friendly addition to the currently available treatment strategies.”
The Bottom Line
Red light therapy has been scientifically proven to help with numerous conditions and disorders, including (as research has repeatedly shown) many complications of diabetes. It stimulates healthy cellular functioning in many of the body’s systems by increasing cellular energy, reducing chronic inflammation, enhancing micro-circulation, and stimulating collagen production.
Treating Diabetic Symptoms with Red Light
If you’re sold on red light therapy and you’ve decided to invest in a high-quality device, you’ve made an excellent decision! There are several important factors you’ll need to consider when choosing your device. Make sure it’s a medical-grade, FDA-registered LED therapy device that has the right combination of wavelengths, and powerful light energy output.
Use both red and near-infrared light for best results.
Many quality red light devices give you the choice of red wavelengths, near-infrared wavelengths, or a combination of both. As previously mentioned, treating diabetic symptoms with a combination of red/NIR light will offer more systemic relief and healing. (Remember, with red light therapy you’re treating the body at the cellular level.) Use red light (630nm to 660nm) to stimulate the nerves in and just beneath the skin, and to promote skin health. Use NIR light (810nm to 850nm) to treat nerves deeper in the body to promote circulation, promote stem cell growth in the bones, and reduce pain and inflammation.
Panel Size and Light Output
Diabetic neuropathy, skin problems, and circulatory problems are often widespread throughout the body—although the feet are most commonly affected, these conditions can also affect the digestive system, heart, and urinary tract. You’ll get the most relief by treating as much of the body as possible in one session. Therapy sessions can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes; the larger the device, the larger the area you can treat at once. If you opt to use a small panel, you’ll need to spend quite a bit more time treating multiple areas of the body.
You’ll want to use panels that deliver the highest possible irradiation, meaning light energy output. This ensures the maximum possible absorption of beneficial light into the body’s tissues. Explore the PlatinumLED BIO series: powerful panels that offer a choice between red and NIR light or a combination of both. Or, the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series, which offers superior irradiation and a full-spectrum red/NIR array using a patented combination of the most scientifically validated wavelengths that support overall health.
LLLT is not an instant cure for any condition. You may experience relief after just one session, but the greatest results will come with time as the body’s cells regenerate and optimize their functioning. This can take a few weeks to a few months. Several sessions per week on an ongoing basis can help manage and minimize diabetic complications and keep the disease in remission.
Relief Is Just a Flip of the Switch Away...
Diabetes is a chronic health condition with serious, even life-threatening consequences. Today, you can manage symptoms and even coax the disease into remission using wise lifestyle choices and low-level light therapy. With time and commitment to your treatment, you may even be able, with your doctor’s approval, to reduce your dependency on diabetes medication. LLLT offers a natural, safe, and side-effect-free treatment that can support your body’s natural healing mechanisms.
As a bonus, you may find that as you treat the symptoms of diabetes with red light, a host of other benefits will become evident. Discover more in the PlatinumLED blog!