What are the health benefits of red light therapy?
Red light therapy may have many health benefits. Again, although thousands of studies have been performed, there is still not a scientific agreement on RLT’s true efficacy. Consequently, it is often used as an experimental treatment, or at least not covered by insurance.
However, its potential benefits are many, and they are promising. The most commonly thought of benefits are:
- Promoting wound healing and tissue repair
- Simulating healing in slow-healing wounds
- Helping with the short-term treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Improving hair growth in people with conditions like alopecia
- Aiding with short-term help for people with rheumatoid arthritis
- Reducing some of the side effects of cancer treatments
- Improving skin complexion and reducing wrinkles
- Helping to diminish scars
- Helping with joint pain from various issues
These days, there are a lot of medical treatments out there for all kinds of conditions. This means that one condition may have many different possible treatments— which is good, because it allows people to pick the choice that is best for them.
One of these treatments that is starting to become more widely known is red light therapy (RLT). While it is still mostly experimental, the potential health benefits of red light therapy are worth talking about. So let’s take a look at those.
What is red light therapy?
RLT is a therapeutic technique that uses low-level wavelengths of red light to treat a variety of issues, from scars to non-healing wounds to skin blemishes and wrinkles. It is a slightly controversial treatment, and still is not widely used.
It got its start in the early 1990s, when scientists began experimenting with using red light to grow plants in space. They found that the intense red light from LEDs helped plants with photosynthesis and producing more energy. (Research which is still used today: most plant grow lights consist of red, blue, and UV lights.)
After this, scientists began wondering if, since it helps plants produce energy, it could have a similar effect in humans. They set out to discover if RLT could increase energy production in human cells the same way it does in plants.
Over the years, thousands of studies and experiments have been performed. And while many of them show promising results, there is still not quite enough evidence to prove that RLT is a more effective treatment for many issues. For this reason, most insurance providers still don’t cover it, as it is still being studied.
And the health benefits of red light therapy haven’t just been known as RLT; it has been given many other names, including:
- Photobiomodulation (PBM)
- Soft laser therapy
- Cold laser therapy
- Low level light therapy (LLLT)
Regardless of its many names, its base principle is simple: it is a low-level wavelength of red light that penetrates about 5 mm beneath the surface of the skin, and could possibly be used to treat a variety of conditions.
How does RLT work?
There are similar therapies out there that use lasers or pulsed lights to cause similar results— however, these therapies usually work by causing low levels of damage to the skin, thus stimulating skin healing. RLT, on the other hand, doesn’t cause damage, and takes the effects directly to the cells themselves.
It is believed that RLT works by producing a biochemical effect in the cells, which then strengthens the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of the cell: they produce the cell’s energy, which is then stored and distributed in molecules known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
By strengthening the mitochondria, a cell can make more ATP. With more ATP, and thus more energy, cells are more able to heal, function more efficiently, and repair themselves. This, then, can be used to stimulate healing or repair in a variety of bodily systems, as they all require the energy of ATP to function.
Although there isn’t sufficient evidence that RLT is an effective replacement for current treatments, these results are certainly promising. One treatment that could treat so many different things would be a big breakthrough, and have a lot of good potential.
But it should be noted that RLT isn’t a miracle treatment. There are some health benefits of red light therapy that have little or no evidence supporting them. These include:
- Treating depression and similar disorders
- Detoxifying the body and boosting the immune system
- Aiding in weight loss
- Treating back or neck pain
- Curing acne
- Treating cancer
Although there is potential that RLT could help with these things, there is currently not enough evidence to say that it does. So for now, it’s better to stick with the things that we have good reason to believe RLT may help with.
How to get RLT
If you have an issue that you think red light therapy might help with, there are a variety of ways you can access it. Of course, as for any medical issue, it is always best to consult your medical professional to find out what course of treatment is best for you.
There are a few different forms of red light therapy available. Many tanning salons, gyms, and similar institutions actually offer the service on site. However, this is a slightly less intense variety that is used primarily for cosmetic reasons. Clearing skin, improving wrinkles, and other such issues are what this type of RLT is commonly used for.
For more medical applications, there are actually devices that you can have shipped to your home. Some of these devices are FDA approved, meaning that they are safe for use. If you choose to get this form of red light therapy, make sure you read all of the instructions carefully to make sure you do everything properly.
Lastly, if you need more targeted treatment, or aren’t sure exactly what you need, you can consult your doctor about doing RLT with them, or with another provider. This ensures that you get your therapy from someone who knows what they’re doing, and who can provide treatment that will benefit your specific needs.
What are the risks?
While there is still research being done, it is mostly agreed that RLT is both safe and painless. It does not seem to have any side effects. There have been reports of burns or blistering, but it must be noted that these were not from normal RLT usage.
Some of these reports come from people who fell asleep with the device on, thus leaving it on their body and “unattended” for long periods of time. Other reports of burns are due to device malfunctions or damage, with the device either being corroded or having broken wires.
So receiving normal RLT should post no risks to you, and these instances of burns are quite rare. The only other potential hazard is your eyes, but if you are going to have the light near your eyes, simply wearing eye protection should avoid that. And it should be noted that RLT is still safer for the eyes than many laser therapies.
Clearly, the health benefits of red light therapy outweigh the risks, as there are very few risks associated with it. So if you think it could help you, consult a medical professional to find out more.
A promising treatment
RLT is still undergoing research, and is not an approved treatment by many insurance providers. However, it shows promising results, and could potentially have a lot of benefits that could help many people.
From pain treatment to wound healing to handling the side effects of cancer treatment, the health benefits of red light therapy could be many. So this treatment is something worth putting more research into, and in the meantime, if you think it will help you, consider trying it out, or consulting a medical professional to find out what would be best for you.