Inflammation has been identified as one of the leading causes of health problems ranging from acne to cancer.
In fact, according to Furman et al., more than 50% of deaths are attributable to inflammation-related diseases.
By targeting inflammation directly, it’s possible to relieve symptoms of chronic skin disorders and even prevent some diseases from developing.
Red light therapy has been shown to be a potent anti-inflammatory treatment.
Regular at-home red light treatments could be the answer to reduced inflammation and better overall health.
Feel free to skip down to the section about how red light therapy can help, if you’re seeking treatment options for inflammation right away.
What is Inflammation?
We typically think of inflammation as being ’bad,’ but it’s really an important part of the immune system.
It’s the body’s response to bacteria, viruses, toxins, and other pathogens.
Signs and Symptoms of Inflammation
Inflammation is what we notice as pain, redness, heat, tenderness, fevers, swelling, but also other symptoms of an immune system that is busy defending the body, including fatigue and even depression.
Sometimes, especially in the case of chronic inflammation, there are virtually no symptoms, or they are attributed to something else.
Left untreated, chronic inflammation can end up manifesting as a serious disease, including asthma, cancer, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and much more.
Types of Inflammation
The key to knowing whether inflammation is beneficial or not is its duration. The bad kind of inflammation can be hard to detect and doesn't always show symptoms until it starts causing serious complications.
Normal inflammatory responses often occur quickly in the presence of a virus, bacteria, or injury. Acute inflammation is temporary and a necessary part of the healing process.
Once the pathogen is removed from the body, the inflammation and pain resolve. This can take from several hours to a few weeks, depending on the problem your body is dealing with.
Short-term, it’s not a bad thing to experience some pain, have a fever, or have redness and swelling due to injury. This is how healing occurs.
Certain factors can interfere with the normal inflammatory process and cause it to go from acute to chronic. In layman's terms, ‘acute’ means ‘temporary,’ while ‘chronic’ means ‘lasting longer than it should.’
Occasionally the body becomes inflamed without a good reason like an injury, bacteria, or a virus.
Low-grade systemic inflammation can easily go unnoticed until it causes enough damage to the body that diseases occur. This could be a wound that doesn’t heal properly, a virus that remains in the body after treatment, or poor diet and environmental toxins that continually stress the body.
Even if you don’t have any clear symptoms of chronic inflammation, it can be causing damage, including damage to your DNA. This is why chronic inflammation is called a silent killer.
Risks of Inflammation
Chronic inflammation isn't easily resolved on its own, and its consequences can be severe. The problems begin at the DNA level and can affect the entire body, even if the original site of inflammation is localized.
Chronic Inflammation and DNA Damage
Chronic inflammation alters and damages the DNA, which can lead to mutations, including cancer. It contributes to an estimated 25% of human cancers, and DNA damage has been clearly observed at the site of various cancers.
Inflammation not only causes DNA damage, but also prevents DNA repair.
Why does DNA damage matter so much? Aside from cancer, DNA damage is the main cause of aging. Everyone goes through a natural aging process, but when DNA has been damaged, that process is accelerated.
Accelerated aging can cause the atrophy and dysfunction of tissues and organs, and this isn't just the skin.
Preventing DNA damage is not easy, but red light therapy can help.
Chronic Inflammation and Poor Cellular Performance
Chronic inflammation due to oxidative stress interferes with cells’ ability to create energy. This has a serious ripple effect on surrounding cells as well as the system the cells belong to. By extension, the body as a whole becomes distressed, and even more inflamed, to a certain degree.
This condition, known as mitochondrial dysfunction, has been implicated in many chronic disorders and diseases. When a cell can’t produce enough energy, its functioning suffers. It can’t do its job, it can’t repair itself and it can’t effectively replicate itself.
Compound that by millions of cells in a localized area or trillions of cells throughout the body, we can see why poorly-performing cells can lead to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, depression, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, and more.
Regularly addressing any chronic inflammation — whether we’re aware of it or not — is essential for restoring the body’s ability to heal, and for disease prevention.
Chronic Inflammation and a Lowered Immune Response
Chronic inflammation breaks down the body’s resistance to pathogens. This results in greater susceptibility to infections and viruses.
This puts those who are already immunocompromised at even greater risk.
Causes of Inflammation
The most common reasons for chronic inflammation include environmental toxins, autoimmune disorders, acute inflammation that hasn’t resolved (such as from an infection or a virus), excess alcohol consumption, obesity, chronic stress, smoking, poor diet, sleep disorders, a sedentary lifestyle, or even exercising at a maximum intensity too often.
Stress and Chronic Inflammation
Stress leads to unwanted inflammation.
What is stress? Essentially, it’s a state of “threatened homeostasis,” a threat to the normal functioning of the body. It can be due to psychological, environmental, or physiological reasons.
Stressful events such as financial worries, anxiety, and trauma overwork the body, activating inflammatory responses in the brain, the endocrine system, and the immune system.
Exercise can help one relieve stress and regain homeostasis. However, other therapeutics may be necessary to treat prolonged psychological stress.
Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. This occurs naturally as part of the cellular metabolic process.
Too much oxidative stress can lead to chronic inflammation and cell and tissue damage.
The body’s cells produce free radicals during their normal metabolic processes. However, to protect themselves, cells also produce antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals. In healthy cells, there's a balance of free radicals and antioxidants.
This balance can be upset due to diet, lifestyle, environmental toxins, medicines, the normal immune response, or even chronic stress.
The brain is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress. Brain cells require a lot of oxygen. In fact, 20 percent of the oxygen your body needs goes straight to the neurons (brain cells). The effects of uncontrolled oxidative stress and inflammation may contribute to neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Brain cells use oxygen to perform metabolic activities which generate free radicals that support brain cell growth, neuroplasticity (the brain's amazing ability to change itself), and cognitive functioning.
However, excess free radicals damage brain cells and even cause cell death, which may increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
By causing chronic inflammation, uncontrolled oxidative stress is directly linked to cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, infertility, and much more.
How to Treat Chronic Inflammation
Can you do anything about chronic inflammation and pain? There are a few lifestyle modifications that help, as well as red light therapy.
But first, let's talk about the potential dangers of using anti-inflammatory drugs.
Medications for Inflammation
Most of us are familiar with using non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain. These generally work in the short term.
However, the long-term consequences of using NSAIDs are alarming.
In a recent McGill University study, Parisien et al. revealed that using nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs for pain relief may prolong the duration of the pain, and increase the chances of developing chronic pain.
Since normal recovery from an injury involves an acute inflammatory response, blocking the initial inflammation and pain could lead to chronic pain that is then much harder to treat.
Even though NSAIDs have analgesic properties in the short term, the researchers found that this prolongs the duration of the pain and inflammation. This effect was not observed with other analgesics.
Parisien et al. further show that acute inflammation occurs for a reason: it sets the stage for tissue repair. In a mouse model, blocking the pain with NSAIDs led to prolonged pain for up to ten times the normal duration.
The same prolonged pain response occurred when pain was treated with steroids such as dexamethazone. There was an immediate analgesic effect, but the inflammation and pain persisted longer afterward.
The study’s authors wrote that their findings were supported by a separate analysis of 500,000 people in the United Kingdom. Those who took NSAIDs for pain relief were more likely to have pain 2-10 years later. This effect was not seen in people who took acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. Acetaminophen is not an NSAID.
Aside from long-term consequences, treating inflammation and seeking pain relief with nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs can lead to short-term adverse reactions. So, is there a better alternative?
Before we look into red light therapy, let’s go over some lifestyle changes that could complement your recovery regimen.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Inflammation
While this article focuses on the anti-inflammatory effects of red and near infrared light therapy, here are some other things you can do to minimize chronic inflammation.
- Limit unprotected sun exposure to prevent oxidative stress caused by UVA/UVB wavelengths.
- Reduce or eliminate processed foods, including grilled and processed meats.
- Add more antioxidant vegetables and fruits to your diet.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals (including household cleaning products) by wearing gloves.
- Manage stress with meditation, hobbies, and exercise.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Stop smoking.
- Exercise daily and maintain a healthy weight.
- Let yourself recover from exercise and illness.
- Get enough sleep.
Note: red light therapy may help with sleep, recovery, weight management, and the harmful effects of too much sun exposure.
Check out the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights Learn page to discover the many red light therapy uses and how daily red light treatments can support a healthy lifestyle.
Treating Inflammation with Red Light Therapy
Ancient healers used sunlight to treat physical and mental conditions. Even today, moderate sun exposure is a common treatment for acne and a variety of psychological disorders.
Today, scientists have isolated red and near infrared (NIR) light as the most beneficial in supporting the healing process.
This is because of their deep absorption into the body’s tissues and the lack of side effects in this non-invasive therapy. It's also because red and NIR light treatment is exceptionally good at stimulating cellular energy production and reducing inflammation. These are at the heart of all physical problems and medical conditions.
Reducing inflammation and reversing mitochondrial dysfunction are the hallmarks of red light therapy.
Red light therapy is a natural, non-medical, non-invasive way to treat inflammation and pain. This has been confirmed by hundreds of studies, whether they are directly related to inflammation itself or if they are focused on pain relief or other symptoms.
Harvard Researcher Dr. Hamblin
In his landmark paper, renowned light therapy researcher Dr. Michael Hamblin wrote, “One of the most reproducible effects of PBM [photobiomodulation using red and near infrared light] is an overall reduction in inflammation, which is particularly important for disorders of the joints, traumatic injuries, lung disorders, and in the brain."
Dr. Hamblin goes on to say that initially, during the acute inflammatory phase, red light has “both pro-inflammatory effects and anti-inflammatory effects.”
In effect, red light therapy appears to induce inflammation when it’s needed (during the acute healing phase). Once the initial inflammatory response is no longer needed, red light therapy inhibits inflammation that lingers too long. This was observed in chronic diabetic wounds in mice.
Dr. Hamblin discussed the mechanisms by which red light therapy inhibits inflammation in animal and human trials on arthritis, muscular performance, inflammatory pain, lung inflammation, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, autoimmune diseases, inflammation found in abdominal flat, achilles tendinopathy, thyroiditis, psoriasis, and even alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease that damages hair follicles causing hair loss).
Dr. Hamblin added, “... there also appears to be a systemic effect whereby light delivered to the body can positively benefit distant tissues and organs. The versatile benefits of [red light therapy] on the brain and the central nervous system, encourages further study of its ability to reduce neuroinflammation. Chronic diseases of the modern age involving systemic inflammation such as type II diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and endothelial dysfunction are again worth investigating in the context of [red light therapy].”
Hundreds of other studies confirm the anti-inflammatory effects of red light therapy. This opens the door for the possibility of using red light both to treat existing conditions caused or aggravated by inflammation; and by using red light proactively to prevent the onset of chronic systemic inflammation.
How Red Light Therapy Treats COVID-19 Inflammation
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is even more urgency in finding ways to treat inflammation. An exaggerated immune response is the leading cause of COVID-19 respiratory distress and mortality. Although great progress is being made in treatments, many drug-based therapies are only partially effective and may come with serious side effects.
"The most severe cases of COVID-19 seem to develop from an overactive inflammatory response that's kick-started to battle the virus but ultimately overwhelms the body," says Helen S. Goodridge, PhD, an immunologist at Cedars-Sinai.
There are no effective antiviral treatments and due to the rapid coronavirus mutations, the long-term efficacy of vaccines is not assured. Therefore, the main focus of current research is the development of therapies against the inflammation that causes severe respiratory distress.
By contrast, red light therapy is a safe method to treat COVID-19-related inflammation.
Implementing clinical applications of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), with the use of platinumLEDs Biomax panels, has been the most beneficial modality for reducing the overactive pro-inflammatory cytokine response associated with the initial stage of COVID-19 as well as with commonly associated secondary disease complications. Using an integrative care model, that incorporates PBMT, my patients have also experienced faster rehabilitation of damaged tissue and improvement in pain management, achieved with minimal or no assistance with pharmaceutical interventions.
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy
Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Researchers evaluated the effects of two 10-minute exposures per day and found that infrared light therapy caused a significant reduction in an inflammatory response that has been implicated in COVID-19 lung injury and respiratory distress.
The research suggests that red light therapy treatments decrease an otherwise excessive and uncontrolled inflammatory response. And, it stimulates the mitochondria of the treated tissue, leading to various regenerative and anti-inflammatory effects.
Red light therapy treatments can be targeted directly to affected body parts and organs, although Dr. Hamblin wrote that localized red light therapy treatments can have positive effects beyond the treatment area (since no system is independent of any other).
The anti-inflammatory effects of red light therapy in relation to COVID-19-related inflammation was observed in human cell cultures as well as in clinical trials on COVID-19 patients.
Unlike in many older studies, they used a LED light therapy device that emitted 720-750 nm near infrared light. The researchers stressed that there were several keys to successfully reducing inflammation:
- the intensity of light (light energy output from the device)
- the use of near infrared light to benefit tissues deeper in the body
- simultaneous treatment coverage (the lungs need to be uniformly illuminated over each 10-minute treatment interval)
- treatment frequency (twice daily 10-minute treatments for a minimum of two days)
When compared to various observed treatment durations ranging from 5-60 minutes, a twice-daily 10-minute treatment time produced the best results.
How Red Light Therapy Can Slow Inflammation-Related Aging
Red and near infrared light therapy has been shown to promote DNA repair and synthesis, which is one of the reasons this natural treatment is such a powerful anti-aging tool.
In addition, improved circulation and more collagen and elastin synthesis mean that as new skin cells emerge, they are healthier and over time, you can “turn back the clock” on your skin and potentially look much younger.
How Red Light Therapy Treats Inflammatory Skin Disorders
Psoriasis, eczema, acne, and rosacea are chronic inflammatory skin conditions that respond well to red light therapy.
Depending on the severity of the condition, it may take anywhere from 1-4 months of consistent daily treatment to see dramatic improvement.
Consistent and ongoing light therapy treatment is the key to getting and maintaining results. Since red light therapy is considered safe for long-term use, it can be used to prevent chronic inflammation and therefore prevent future flare-ups.
Blue Light Therapy and Inflammation
Meanwhile, blue light therapy is also a common treatment for acne, since it does a very good job of destroying acne-causing bacteria.
According to new research, acne is actually caused by inflammation and not bacteria. Inflammation oxidizes the sebum (oil) in pores and hair follicles. This lowers the sebum’s oxygen content, creating a hospitable environment for Propionibacterium acnes (p.acnes), an anaerobic bacteria that thrive in low-oxygen environments.
Once p.acnes colonize this low-oxygen environment, it triggers the secondary inflammation that we see as red, swollen pimples.
Using blue light therapy for acne is an effective surface treatment. Following up with red light therapy is a way to address inflammation, which is one of the underlying causes of acne.
How Red Light Therapy Eases Inflammation and Pain
Inflammation and pain go hand in hand. Pain is the body's signal that something is wrong. The site of the pain is always inflamed. You can't have pain without inflammation, though you can have inflammation without pain.
Joint pain can be caused by injury, overuse, or an autoimmune disorder. Whatever the initial cause, joint pain and inflammation are inseparable. It may be possible to relieve joint pain by removing the inflammation using red light therapy.
Chronic problems like low back pain or osteoarthritis joint pain can be eased with red light therapy, as confirmed by numerous studies. There is extensive documentation on how RLT can treat arthritis as well.
A recent review assessed 22 randomized controlled trials on knee osteoarthritis joint pain, total hip arthroplasty, and hand osteoarthritis. The authors stated that the majority of treatment groups that received low level laser therapy (LLLT) showed significant improvements in pain, function, and quality of life.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder. In RA, the immune system mistakenly directs antibodies to attack the lining of (synovium) of the joints. This can affect the bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Untreated, this inflammation will destroy the joint. Fortunately, rheumatoid arthritis responds very well to near infrared light therapy (since near infrared light absorbs deeper into the joints to stimulate repair and relieve joint pain and inflammation).
How Red Light Therapy Helps with Wound Healing
Red light therapy can reduce inflammation that is slowing down or interfering with your healing process. In a study on skin wounds, 660 nm red light was used to increase cell proliferation and migration at the site of a wound, to accelerate healing.
Wound healing is complex and is divided into various overlapping phases: acute inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling. This article goes into greater detail about how RLT can be used for wound healing at the cellular level.
Red Light Therapy Panels for Inflammation
Treating and preventing inflammation is a lifelong challenge, so it makes sense to use a device that delivers not only the power needed to push light photons into the cells, but one that is FDA cleared as a medical-grade device, and features both red and near infrared wavelengths.
Use a Combination of Red and Near Infrared Light
Red light used for inflammation in the skin. This can help treat inflammatory disorders such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
Near infrared wavelengths are longer, and therefore they penetrate deeper into the body to treat inflammation of the joints, muscles, the brain, and even nerves and bones.
The BIOMAX series from PlatinumLED Therapy Lights delivers much more than the commonly used 660 nm red light and 850 nm near infrared light you see in most red light therapy panels, but an array of five red and near infrared wavelengths.
The synergy created by using five different red/NIR wavelengths amplifies the effects of each one and ensures thorough penetration into all layers of the skin and cells deep in the body including cells in the bones, connective tissues, organs, and muscles.
Short, Daily Light Therapy Sessions
Short, daily light therapy treatment sessions (3-20 minutes) appear to be most effective. It's important to be consistent to remove the inflammation and give your body a chance to repair and regenerate the affected area.
BIOMAX: the Best Anti-Inflammatory Light Therapy Product on the Market
The BIOMAX series has superior light energy output in their power class, a five-wavelength array of two red and three near infrared wavelengths, an industry-leading three year warranty, and a modular design that lets you increase both the power and coverage by adding panels.
Depending on your primary health concerns, there are four light therapy panel sizes to choose from.
There are many differences in treatment area and light intensity. These panels are also modular, so you can always start with a smaller panel and then add more later if you need them.
You can treat dozens of conditions with a short daily red light therapy session for:
- reducing inflammation
- boosting cellular energy production
- increasing circulation
- increasing collagen and elastin synthesis
These four mechanisms of action aren’t the only ways that red light therapy can benefit you, but they’re the main reasons that this all-natural, side-effect-free therapy is such a valuable part of a comprehensive health plan.
There’s no wonder that it’s the #1 treatment for anti-aging (inflammation-caused mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the leading causes of wrinkles and sagging, papery skin).
And, many doctors are now prescribing red light therapy as a key component of treatment for inflammatory disorders, autoimmune disorders, and chronic diseases.