Can Lyme Disease be Treated with Red and Infrared Light Therapy?
Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi or (rarely) Borrelia mayonii. First diagnosed in the 1970s in Lyme, Connecticut, Lyme disease can develop in humans who are bitten by infected blacklegged ticks. In its early stages, it causes flu-like symptoms including rash, fever, chills, nausea, and joint aches. Catching Lyme disease at an early stage is critical because it grows progressively worse and symptoms become more serious.
If Lyme disease is caught early enough, patients may be successfully treated with antibiotics. “People treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Usually, it takes two to four weeks for Lyme disease sufferers to recover after taking antibiotics.
According to the CDC, in a small number of cases, antibiotics are not completely effective for people with Lyme disease. In that case, a chronic form of the disease, known as post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), may develop.
Chronic Lyme Disease
PTLDS is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that results when the infection has spread to the heart, nervous system, and joints. Symptoms include neurological problems, extreme fatigue, heart arrhythmia, liver inflammation (hepatitis), neuropathy, and a condition known as Lyme arthritis, which is chronic joint inflammation.
Scientists aren’t actually sure why some people develop PTLDS. The prevailing theory is that the bacteria can trigger an auto-immune response that has lasting effects even after the original infection has been cleared up.
When you have PTLDS, your liver and kidneys become overworked as they attempt to clear out the invading bacteria. Slower-than-normal detoxification can lead to a build up of toxins that stress the other organs—and a ripple effect of unwanted symptoms quickly follows.
Another complication brought on by PTLDS is chronic inflammation, which may be caused by:
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria that linger in the body
- Lyme-disease-related autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system malfunctions and begins attacking the body instead of the invading pathogens
Mitochondrial dysfunction, which occurs when structures inside cells that produce energy for the cells malfunction.
An Alternative Method of Attaining Relief
People with Lyme disease who are unable to take antibiotics, or who developed PTLDS because antibiotics were not effective, are often desperate to find a treatment that works. According to the CDC, patients with PTLDS usually get better over time, but many months can pass before they feel completely well. Ideally, they would find a treatment that supports the body’s detoxification processes, stimulates normal cell activity, and reduces inflammation.
Actually, there are two methods available today that help achieve these functions: heat and light.
The Healing Properties Of Heat
Heat, like the kind of intense heat you’d experience in a sauna, is a therapy that’s been around for millennia. Saunas produce enough heat to make the body a less welcoming host for bacteria by raising the body’s core temperature and encouraging profuse sweating, which releases toxins through the skin. This reduces the burden on the liver and kidneys.
Saunas increase blood flow to aid with the detoxification process and to bring needed nutrients to all parts of the body. Saunas also activate heat shock proteins. These proteins are produced by cells in response to stressful conditions (such as heat) but they are now known to be present during wound healing or tissue regeneration. Activating these proteins artificially, via heat, can help stimulate the healing process.
Today’s infrared saunas are a modern take on the traditional wood-fired sauna. They are also a popular treatment for Lyme disease. According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson, author of Sauna Therapy, infrared light penetrates deeply into the tissues to quickly remove neurotoxins and accelerating the healing process.
Infrared light—specifically the far-infrared (FIR) end of the infrared spectrum—is invisible to the human eye. We perceive it as heat, although it’s not an oppressive heat like what is generated by traditional saunas. The ambient temperature in the sauna remains relatively cool, around 110 to 130 degrees F as opposed to the sweltering 150 to 180 degrees generated in a wood-fired sauna.
With both wood-fired and infrared saunas, your body absorbs the heat, your core temperature increases, you sweat, your heat shock proteins spring into action, and your body releases toxins. But what about near-infrared (NIR) saunas?
Near-infrared light is closer to the visible wavelengths of light. It has tremendous therapeutic benefits (more on that later), and for people who don’t tolerate heat well, NIR saunas can seem like an attractive option. But it’s important to know that NIR saunas use incandescent bulbs, which don’t generate nearly enough power to be beneficial.
If you’re considering an infrared sauna for home use, opt for a traditional or FIR sauna, rather than an NIR sauna. And if you’re heat-intolerant, read on to learn how red light therapy can be an option.
The Benefits Of Red Light Therapy
Natural sunlight has been used for thousands of years to promote health and healing, and is invaluable—no living thing could survive without the sun. But as beneficial as sunlight is, too much can be risky, causing premature aging, damage to the skin, and skin cancer. It may seem unbelievably simple that you can help alleviate even some symptoms of a serious bacterial illness like Lyme disease with light. But if you use the correct wavelengths of light, delivered at the correct power, you might be surprised at how effective it is. To understand this concept, let’s look at some interesting basics about light for therapeutic uses.
Scientists have identified the specific therapeutic properties, of each wavelength of light, which are measured in nanometers (nm). Of the visible and invisible wavelengths of light, red and NIR light have the broadest range of benefits throughout the body. For example, red light from 630nm to 660nm has been shown to be an effective aid for facial rejuvenation, non-melanoma skin cancers, neuropathic pain, and wound healing.
Near-infrared wavelengths between 810nm and 850nm are technically part of the infrared light spectrum. Because these wavelengths can penetrate much deeper into the body than red light, NIR light can also be used for post-exercise recovery, stroke recovery, and reducing oxidative stress in the brain, among numerous other conditions.
The most significant benefits come from the combination of red and NIR wavelengths. Red light penetrates the outer layers of skin, whereas NIR light penetrates into bone, muscle, organs, and connective tissue. Many lymph nodes, for example, are just below the skin's surface and can be stimulated by the shorter wavelengths of red light. To stimulate the lymph nodes deeper in the body, the deeper reach of NIR wavelengths is necessary.
Here's How Light Helps Lyme Disease
Red light therapy is an umbrella term for light therapy using red and NIR wavelengths. Also called photobiomodulation and low-level light therapy (LLLT), red light therapy is clinically proven to help the body recover from a variety of conditions because it powerfully supports the body’s own healing mechanisms.
In other words, LLLT helps the body heal from the inside out, rather than just providing relief from symptoms.
Specifically, red light therapy improves cellular functioning and reduces chronic inflammation. Optimal systemic functioning begins at the cellular level, and peak cellular functioning is supported by a reduction in inflammation. From this simple beginning you can expect a positive ripple effect of benefits. Here’s how it works:
One of the most significant therapeutic benefits of red and especially near-infrared light is that it boosts cellular energy production. When mitochondria absorb light photons, this stimulates the production of a compound known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary fuel for all cellular functions and metabolic processes. When cells are energized, they perform better and the body is healthier and at peak performance.
Normal mitochondrial functioning is key to healing. Cells are stressed when the body is under attack by bacteria, viruses, or any foreign substance, and this can manifest in poor functioning and cell repair. Energized cells are much better equipped to protect themselves from damage, but they also perform their specialized functions much more efficiently. Normalized cellular energy leads to activation of beneficial biological processes since each cell affects and is affected by its neighbors.
Temporary, or acute, inflammation is a beneficial part of the healing process. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, this can start a chain reaction of the more severe and lasting symptoms of PTLDS. Since LLLT significantly reduces inflammation, this in turn allows cells to function normally—which will speed up the healing process.
Heat vs. Light: Which Is Most Effective?
Heat, whether it comes from a traditional or infrared sauna, is both a stimulating and destructive force. Heat causes additional stress to the body. While the stress is temporary and the stress can lead to accelerating healing, the heat itself can cause damage when not used with caution. Both heat and red light can help Lyme Disease sufferers. If you are choosing between them, you will probably get more powerful and lasting results with light therapy.
Light is a stimulating force that does not stress the body but rather, promotes healthy cell functioning, without any known side effects.
Red light therapy reduces inflammation and promotes healing from within. It does this by:
- Stimulating mitochondrial activity
- Boosting production of stem cells, which are non-specialized cells that have the ability to develop into many different cell types including brain cells, muscle, and other soft tissue
- Improving thyroid health (thyroid hormones modulate the immune response.)
- Promoting liver regeneration
Red light also eases the symptoms of Lyme disease including Lyme arthritis, a painful and debilitating condition that results from inflammation of the joints, usually the knees.
To date, this Lyme arthritis study is the only study specially conducted on the effects of red light therapy on Lyme disease. But given the broad range of therapeutic benefits, and the vast number of conditions that red light therapy is known to effectively help, it is reasonable to conclude that it could help you if you suffer from Lyme disease.
How to Alleviate Lyme Disease Symptoms with Red and NIR Light Therapy
Before we get into the “how” of self-administering red light therapy, let’s talk about irradiance, which is the amount of light energy that strikes a particular surface.
The types of bulbs used in a therapy device (whether a sauna or panel) makes a huge difference in the amount of light photons that actually absorb into the skin. Incandescent bulbs, which are used in NIR saunas, generate a lot of heat but not much light energy. By comparison, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs generate a lot of light energy but very little heat. The result: a comfortable and pleasurable therapy experience, and more importantly, more light photons being absorbed into the skin where they start a chain reaction of beneficial effects.
One of the most beautiful aspects of red light therapy is that you don’t have to leave home for your treatment; you can purchase a device and use it in the comfort of your own home.
But before you start shopping for a red light device, a few words of caution: Prepare to be overwhelmed at the selection. Just remember that to reap the benefits of higher irradiance, as well as the well-researched wavelengths of red and NIR light, you’ll want to get the most powerful LED red light therapy panels available.
A daily or every-other-day session of just 10 to 20 minutes in front of a high-output LED device will stimulate the healing process. Make sure to apply the light to bare skin.
Since Lyme disease is present throughout the body, you’ll want to use as large a device as possible to optimize your therapy time. The recommended duration of red light therapy can be anywhere from one to four months. But because each person’s individual situation is unique, you may need to stay consistent with the therapy for six months or more. Since it also feels good, red light therapy could become a treasured part of your self-care routine.
If a larger panel is not available, you can administer targeted treatments using a smaller panel.
- Focus the irradiation on your abdomen and lower back to stimulate the liver and kidneys, and on your throat to stimulate the thyroid.
- Minimize brain fog by facing the LED device directly so that NIR light photons absorb through the skin into the brain, where they reduce oxidative stress.
- Alleviate knee pain by exposing your knee(s) to the light.
- Irradiate any area of the body where you’re experiencing pain, stiffness, or other signs of inflammation.
In addition to LLLT, get as much sleep as you can, manage stress, and improve your diet as ways to support your body’s healing mechanisms.
A Natural Way To Ease Lyme Disease Symptoms
Who knew that one little infected tick could cause so much damage … or that something as natural as red light therapy could be used to alleviate the symptoms? In an age where more and more bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant, it’s a good idea to seek out effective alternative therapies. That does not mean you should avoid taking antibiotics—never avoid or stop any treatment unless directed by a doctor. But given the limited effectiveness of antibiotics in completely eradicating symptoms, red and near-infrared light can be a powerful complementary therapy for Lyme disease sufferers.