What is Red Light Therapy?

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy treatment, often referred to as photobiomodulation, is an increasingly popular health option in the United States and worldwide. Photobiomodulation is the use of light (“photo”) to affect (or “modulate”) the body and positively influence its state. Cells in the body are able to absorb energy from the light and improve their functionality.

In this article, we will go into depth on the research behind how red light therapy works in the body or the “mechanism of action”. If you’d like to skip ahead to the benefits, you can move to the next article here.

How Does it Work?

The method of this treatment is the use of light in wavelengths between 600 and 1000nm, which is in the red to infrared ranges, infrared being invisible to the eye. This is achieved through LED arrays, providing a bath of warm red light to the user.

The reason for the use of 600nm to 1000nm is that these are thought to be the most bioactive wavelengths, while above 1000nm photons are absorbed by water and below 600nm photons are absorbed by the melanin in the skin (this is what gives you a tan) [1].

How Do the Devices Operate?

Most consumer devices operate by combining red and infrared LEDs to generate wavelengths at multiple bioactive absorption peaks. These consist primarily of the 600 to 700nm range for red light and 800 to 900nm wavelength for infrared. It is commonly understood that red light is good for deeper penetration of the top layers of skin than other colors, while infrared (up to ~900nm) is useful for even deeper penetration [4]. This allows a variety of benefits to be derived simultaneously.

Our HG Pro Series of red light therapy devices operate in this fashion, using 50% LEDs in the 660nm wavelength and 50% LEDs in the 850nm wavelength in each array.

Countless studies confirm the effectiveness of wavelengths between 630 and 670nm [3][7][8][12], as well as the benefits derived from the infrared wavelengths between 830 and 880nm [9][10][11][12].

What Does it Do to the Body?

The primary mechanism of action for red light therapy is the absorption of particular wavelengths of light within the cells of our bodies. Primary cells affected are the mitochondria of cells, where specific molecules absorb the red light, particularly those involved in cellular respiration processes. This is shown through the increase in ATP production, increased oxygen supply, and other effects [1][2][3].

These cells then convert the light particles (photons) into useful energy by reaching an excited state, then activating signal pathways in the cell's metabolic systems [1][4].

Cytochrome C Oxidase & Nitric Oxide Production

Research has shown that cytochrome c oxidase activity is modulated and nitric oxide production increases with the use of red light therapy at the wavelengths discussed here [5][13][14]. Both molecules are heavily involved in the respiratory processes of mitochondrial cells which impact cellular metabolism [15][16][17]. This leads directly to mitochondrial function increasing oxygen consumption, production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and improving cellular energy stores. Nitric oxide also increases blood flow to the brain [19].

ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate)

ATP is known as the “energy currency” of cells. This molecule is involved directly with the exchange of molecules within and outside of cells and is used in everything from ion transport, muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, substrate phosphorylation, and chemical synthesis. It is a short-term energy storage system and is formed through the breaking of glucose bonds [18].

Red light therapy has been shown to increase ATP levels within exposed cells [1][3][5]. This leads to improved cellular activity, energy storage, and neuron communication [20].

What Does All of This Mean?

If you have gotten this far, either you are very interested in how red light therapy works, or you are simply scanning this article. In either case, the bottom line is this: red light therapy has been shown repeatedly to improve the functionality and health of our cells, even reducing cellular death [21].

In the next several articles, we will go into detail about the benefits of red light therapy and what it means for your life, all backed by research.


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