Week 18 Tip: The Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

By: David Meine

| May 3, 2022

Welcome everybody to More Than Healthy as we continue to share a Full Year of Resolutions. This week we are going to talk about Tip #18: The health benefits of red light therapy. Red light therapy is one of the more unusual things we do for our health, but we also believe it’s one of the best things we do. If you have never tried it, we highly recommend it. However, as with all our tips, we are not giving medical advice. Please check with your doctor to make sure this is a treatment that’s okay for you to do.  

What is red light therapy?

Red light therapy, often referred to as RLT, is a treatment that uses low wavelength red light and/or near infrared (NIR) light for healing and cell repair. These particular light wavelengths are extremely healthy and provide a type of energy our eyes can’t see, but that our bodies need. 

You expose your skin to the red light through a lamp, device, or laser. There are doctors who offer this treatment, and some salons and dental offices do it, too. You can also buy your own red light therapy device. To be clear, we’re not talking about a light bulb that is tinted red. While that can be soothing, the type of red light that is used in healthy therapies actually emits red light wavelengths that are a form of energy. 

RLT uses very low levels of heat and doesn’t hurt or burn skin. It is not the same type of light used in tanning booths, and it doesn’t expose skin to damaging UV rays. 

Healthy light vs. artificial light

We live in a world that is almost completely filled with artificial light. Many of us spend most of our waking hours indoors; in fact, statistics say many of us spend over 90% of our time inside. When we do venture out, we slather on the sunscreen. We’ve even replaced most incandescent bulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs, which emit zero infrared and often very little red light. 

This lack of exposure to proper light is more unhealthy than we think. In fact, doctors have called it “the catalyst for disease and dysfunction” in today’s world. 

Exposure to artificial light at night is especially bad for us. Specifically, those blue and green wavelengths that all of our devices emit are extremely unhealthy. That type of light wavelength suppresses our natural melatonin release at night. This ruins our circadian rhythms, which are so vital for good sleep, and prevents melatonin from repairing and rejuvenating the body as we sleep.

This helps explain the epidemics of illnesses of the skin, eyes, and brain, as all of these organs are constantly exposed to light and rely on healthy light to function well.

Light is nature’s medicine

Healthy light is critical for the health of our bodies. It impacts everything from the way our cells communicate with each other to how our bodies recover from stress. Lack of exposure to proper light disrupts the body’s healthy balance. It leads to fatigue, inflammation, weaker muscles, and decreased mental accuity and well being. 

Decades of research overwhelmingly indicate that specific wavelengths of light have a positive effect on the human body. Red and near infrared light wavelengths increase the body’s ability to produce energy and reduce damage caused by oxidative stress. These forms of light also have anti-inflammatory effects. The healing power of light promotes balanced cellular function and optimizes performance, recovery, and better overall health and wellness. It affects everything from healthy skin to testosterone levels to neurological function.

Hippocrates, one of history’s greatest physicians, said, “The physician treats, but nature heals.” Red light therapy is a great example of this.

How does red light therapy work?

Red light therapy works by acting on the mitochondria of our cells. These mitochondria are the “power plant” or “power generators” of the cells, including brain cells (neurons) and even stem cells that are produced in the bone marrow.

Red light energizes these tiny power plants as the mitochondria soaks up the light and generates more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary fuel for most cells. In other words, the right light wavelengths help our cells to work better. When our cell “batteries” are charged they can work more efficiently. This boosts new cell growth and helps cells repair themselves and get healthier. 

Conversely, mitochondrial dysfunction occurs when something interferes with mitochondria’s ability to produce ATP. Culprits often include oxidative stress and inflammation, and this can frequently lead to chronic health conditions. Red light therapy helps keep our mitochondria healthy and functioning well. 

The science behind all this is both wide and deep, and if you’d like to take a deeper dive, I encourage you to read Dr. Leland Stillman’s work as shared on Ben Greenfield’s site. Or, check out the cutting-edge work happening at Huberman labs, where they study the effect of light on neural regeneration and neuroplasticity. 

Red lights in space

I love that red light therapy was originally discovered by NASA. They began experimenting with red light therapy on plant growth, and then to help heal wounds in astronauts. Like many other discoveries, other potential uses for red light therapy began to be investigated. 

That list of potential benefits is long. We’ll link to some of the additional benefits and resources, but for this article, we are going to share five benefits of how we’ve seen red light therapy improve our health. 

Five benefits of red light therapy

1) Improved sleep

By now you know we do a lot of things to improve our sleep, as we know sleep to be the foundation to all health. We’ve owned our Joovv red light for almost two years, and I  believe it’s one of the key reasons my sleep has significantly improved during that time. 

I used to be lucky if I would get two hours of REM and deep sleep combined in a night. After I got my sleep apnea diagnosis and got that under control, I focused on other things I could do to improve my sleep. I started doing red light therapy consistently 5-6 days a week. Now I consistently get over 4 hours of REM and deep sleep each night, and I no longer have to use a BiPAP machine. That’s how much my sleep health has improved.

Light’s effect on circadian rhythms

Light plays a key role in sleep because of our circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm is your internal 24-hour clock. It’s what helps you feel sleepy at night and alert during daylight hours. Light exposure is how our brain knows how to guide our circadian rhythm. We are built to follow a natural light pattern, from sunrise to sunset. Many studies show that in this world of artificial lighting we live in, it is very easy for our circadian rhythm to be off. When that happens, you don’t sleep well at night, and you feel tired and sluggish throughout the day. 

Melatonin matters

Red light therapy is helpful because it helps to stimulate the production of melatonin, a naturally-occurring hormone that helps us sleep. Your brain releases more melatonin as darkness falls and less as you’re exposed to light. 

In addition to making us sleepy, melatonin also protects our mitochondria from oxidative damage. Somewhere between 3-4 hours after the absence of blue and green light, your body releases melatonin into the bloodstream, where it travels around your body turning on your cellular rest and repair mechanisms. 

It’s important to be aware that blue light wavelengths actually stop the brain from producing melatonin. Blue light waves are emitted from the sun, but also from fluorescent lights, LED lights, TVs, cell phones and tablets, computer screens, and gaming devices. This is why we’re encouraged to put down our devices a couple of hours before our typical bedtime. We sleep much better when we do.

2) Rejuvenates your skin

The most common reason that people use red light therapy is because it improves the health of your skin. Those well-charged, healthy mitochondria can help to repair skin and enhance skin rejuvenation. The skin’s appearance is improved and you can see a reduction in wrinkles, scars, redness, and acne, because of that healthy cell regeneration.

In last week’s post we talked about the importance of collagen. Collagen provides our skin’s smoothness and elasticity. It keeps our hair soft and healthy and our nails strong. As we age, our collagen production naturally starts to decline.

Red light therapy works to stimulate collagen production. It increases fibroblast production, which produces collagen. RLT also increases blood circulation to the tissues and reduces inflammation in cells. It is often promoted as treatment for common skin conditions, including:

  • Wound healing
  • Reducing stretch marks
  • Reducing wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots
  • Improving psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema
  • Help to reduce scars
  • Improving sun-damaged skin
  • Treating acne

Before and after red light therapy

People always ask us if we think it’s working on our skin. There is no way to tell what our skin would have looked like now if we hadn’t been consistently using red light therapy these past two years. But we think our skin looks better today than it did two years ago. 

Check out these photos that Carla took. You can read all the scientific articles you want, but a picture is worth a thousand words! 

Before  and After Pictures for Carla’s Face

Before and After Pictures for Carla’s Neck

Although the difference isn’t as dramatic as a facelift, the wrinkles aren’t as deep. She’s two years older in the ‘After’ pictures, but her skin looks younger than it did in February of 2020.

Could the improvement be from other healthy lifestyle changes we’ve implemented? From increasing our water intake, sleeping better, and removing sugar and processed foods from our diet while eating good proteins and veggies and greens? Absolutely. But we also believe the red light has definitely helped. 

3) Improved testosterone levels

Low testosterone is a pretty common issue for men, with about 25% of all men 40 and older reporting testosterone-related issues. As we age, our testosterone level declines, typically about 1% a year after age 30 or 40. 

Testosterone is a hormone that helps maintain our bone density, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, facial and body hair, red blood cell production, and sex drive. Healthy testosterone levels help us to ‘age well,’ keeping us feeling younger, more energized, and healthier. 

Science shows that red light therapy helps restore testosterone levels in men whose levels had declined with age. One study showed a 3-fold increase in the group who used light therapy for 30 minutes each morning. 

This has been my experience as well. Consistently using red light therapy has boosted my testosterone levels, which has not only helped me to feel better, but it’s also helped strengthen our marriage.

4) Pain and inflammation from minor sports injuries

One of the great benefits we’ve seen from using red light therapy is that our bodies heal more quickly than they used to. Last year I was training hard for the Huntsman Senior Games cycling races. I had a terrible crash and really injured myself – the type of injuries that rack up large medical bills and could’ve taken me out. Throughout my recovery I consistently used red light therapy, and I healed much more quickly than I normally would have. 

It’s believed that red light therapy helps with healing because of its significant anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These effects are both local, meaning the area where the light has been applied, and systemic, meaning other tissues and organs in the body are also benefited indirectly. 

The potential uses for RLT as an anti-inflammatory therapy are abundant. Medical professionals are using it to help relieve pain and inflammation associated with conditions like tendonitis, rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and osteoarthritis. I use it daily on my feet to keep my severe neuropathy in remission as well. 

Ongoing research shows that because of these anti-inflammatory properties, red light therapy shows great promise in helping with chronic inflammatory issues like Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, thyroid issues, and psoriasis. 

5) Improved brain function

It’s no coincidence that red light therapy has so many positive effects on the brain. The brain is ten times more metabolically active than the rest of the body’s tissue. That means it contains an enormous number of mitochondria. A single neuron in the brain can contain thousands of them. When those cell “batteries” begin to degenerate, the brain simply can’t work as well.

Notable results as treatment for stroke

Red light therapy helps keep those essential mitochondria charged and working efficiently. Studies also show that red light stimulates cerebral blood flow and increases brain oxygenation. Each year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. Nearly 90% of strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is blocked. Multiple studies confirm that red light therapy showed significant and lasting improvements and notable results when used for stroke treatment. 

Additional studies show that red light therapy helps stimulate regrowth of neurons and the brain’s ability to form new neural connections. This accelerates and supports healing after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and can potentially help those with neurodegenerative disorders. 

Other areas where red light therapy has been scientifically shown to help with brain health include:

Again, the science behind this is vast. If you’d like to learn more, you can read this article about what scientists are saying about red light therapy and brain health. 

Additional health benefits:

Thoughtful exposure to the correct kind of light has been linked with many health benefits. Major conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), metabolic dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, and multiple sclerosis may be helped by red light therapy. RLT is now being studied extensively in cancer research, as it looks promising for destroying cancer cells. It also appears to help cancer patients heal from the side effects of modern cancer treatments. It’s been shown to help generate hair growth, strengthen muscle contraction, and assist in neurotransmission.

The difference between red light and near infrared light

There are two types of red light used in therapy: red light (RL) and near infrared light (NIR). They are similar, but they also provide some completely different benefits. Red light is visible and has wavelengths of 630nm-700nm. It is most effective on the surface of the skin.

Infrared light is invisible, but can sometimes be felt as heat. It has longer wavelengths of 800nm-1000nm, which allows it to penetrate more deeply into the body. This light is able to do the cellular repair work we’ve discussed above.

As we did our research on red light therapy, we decided we wanted the benefits available from both red and near infrared light, so the device we chose emits a combination of both wavelengths.

How can I use red light therapy?

By now you might be thinking you’d like to try red light therapy for yourself, but wondering how you can do it with limited space or budget. We bought a JOOVV light and were able to put it in a bathroom in our basement. But there are also some handheld models that aren’t as costly and don’t take up as much space.

You can also check local tanning bed shops. Many of them are starting to carry red light beds and a monthly pass isn’t very expensive. There are also infrared saunas in some areas, where you can combine healthy red light therapy while you generate that healthy ‘river of sweat’ we discussed in Tip #10.

A red light is simple to use. You stand in front of the light and turn so each side gets the treatment. (Check out our weekly video to see a demo.) Start out with 5 minutes and work up to 20 minutes a day. Carla and I do this 5-6 days a week. We typically listen to a book or music while doing our red light therapy.

Reach out

I know that everything we’re doing to help us achieve and maintain optimal health, such as cold thermogenesis, heat therapy, eating healthy, and getting restorative sleep, is making a positive difference for us. But we also absolutely believe the red light therapy has been an important part of all of that and is making a significant difference in our well-being.

If you have any questions about red light therapy, we’d love to help! Just comment below or contact us at our website at www.morethanhealthy.com. You can also always message us via any of our social media channels. 

If you’d like to join us for our free monthly coaching calls, text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list.

Wishing you a healthy week!