How to Use Light Therapy to Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the most popular topics in healthcare, and rightfully so. It is a hallmark of many diseases currently ravaging modern society, such as arthritis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and depression. Inflammation is also associated with acute diseases involving the heart, pancreas, liver, and other organs, as well as trauma and infection.

The personal and economic burden of these diseases cannot be overstated. Treatment of inflammation associated diseases makes up the majority of health care spending in the US, costing billions of dollars annually. There are also indirect costs of illness, such as reduced work and productivity. The most common treatments for inflammation are pharmaceuticals, including prescription (such as Celebrex) and the over-the-counter drugs (such as Aspirin and Alleve). However, many of these drugs have serious side effects, such as hypersensitivity reactions and ulcers.

Given these risks, many people are turning to non-invasive therapies to fight inflammation, some of which are highly effective and have far fewer side effects than their pharmaceutical counterparts. One of these is treatment with red and near infrared light (also called red light therapy or photobiomodulation), which uses light waves at specific frequencies to decrease inflammation at a cellular level.

As described by Dr. Michael Hamblin, former Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, “one of the most reproducible effects of [light therapy] is an overall reduction of inflammation.” Studies have found that light therapy affects levels of many molecules involved in inflammation, including reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, and prostaglandins. Light therapy has even been found to reduce inflammation in the brain, known as neuroinflammation.

There is no single right way to use red light therapy to reduce inflammation. It all depends on what condition you are trying to treat and what your personal preferences are as far as treatment approach. The following are a few simple questions that can be used to guide you towards selecting the device that is most suitable for your needs:

1. What are your specific health concerns? Red light is usually applied to the affected body part, either directly in contact with the skin or at a distance of around 4 to 12 inches away. Some devices are location specific, such as knee wraps, head wraps or helmets, shoulder and neck wraps, or elbow and wrist red light wraps. Other devices are non-specific, such as square or rectangular light wraps, or red light panels. If you are dealing with a single, region-specific concern – such as knee arthritis or Alzheimer’s Disease – you may prefer to get a regionally targeted red light therapy device. However, if you are dealing with inflammation in more than one area of the body and want a device that can be used in multiple locations, a non-specific wrap may be preferable. Red light panels can also be used to address multiple body parts, although they may be difficult to position properly for some locations, such as the feet and ankles.

2. What are your preferred treatment conditions? Treatments using red light panels are most often done in a seated position, with the panel oriented towards the face, neck, torso, or other affected body part. They can also be done in a standing position, although this is not as relaxing. Lying down is possible if the treatment location allows it. Red light panels are wired and require the user to stay in the same position throughout the duration of the treatment. In contrast, treatments using red light wraps can be done in any position, including standing, sitting, and lying down. They can even be worn while moving around. Some red light wraps are wired, while others are wireless, with wireless models providing more flexibility.

3. What device specs should you look for? At home red light therapy devices almost always use LED’s as the light source. However, they do vary in other parameters, such as light wavelength(s) and intensity. When it comes to choosing the optimal wavelengths, you should look for light in the red and/ or near infrared spectrums – but avoid the range of 700-780nm which has been found to be ineffective. Multi-wavelength devices including both red and near infrared light may be the most versatile. In terms of intensity, it has been found that it is ideal to mimic the intensity of the sun, which is around 24 mW/cm2 at the skin. This is described as the “sweet spot” between higher intensities, which can have harmful effects, and lower intensities, which will have no effect at all. Many devices on the market are at a much higher intensity than the sun, so choose a sunmimicking product and don’t overdo it when it comes to treatment frequency and duration.

Red light therapy (with red and near infrared light) may be used to reduce inflammation in a wide range of diseases, both acute and chronic. There are very few contraindications to red light therapy, and it can be safely used at home as part of a regular wellness regime. Choose a device that suits your needs and preferred treatment conditions, and which delivers both red and near infrared light at an appropriate intensity. Combine red light therapy with an anti-inflammatory diet and supplements, regular exercise, stress management, and good sleep hygiene for best results.

The contents in this blog; such as text, content, graphics are intended for educational purposes only. The Content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider.

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Meet the Expert:
Genevieve Newton, DC, PhD has spent the past 19 years as a researcher and educator in the field of nutritional sciences. A series of personal health crises led her to discover the benefits of cannabinoids, and she soon found herself engrossed in studying the endocannabinoid system and therapeutic applications of cannabis/cannabinoids in mental health, pain, sleep, and neurological disorders. She has recently taken a position as the Scientific Director at Fringe, a new medical CBD and education company.

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