Every time I hear the term “red light therapy” I start singing the Police song Roxanne. It’s the friendlier term for photobiomodulation (PBM) or low level laser therapy. All of them mean the same thing: exposing your body to the red and infrared spectrum of light for the health benefits.
Instead of trying to pull together a half dozen links in an attempt to share the ground truth when it comes to PBM, I found a Google Sheet that appears to link to (nearly) all of the research. You can find that here. For something most people haven’t heard of, that’s a lot of research.
On the right in that Sheet you can find the PubMed or similar link, which can give you the DOI string, so you can plug that into SciHub. From there, you can read pretty much any of the studies directly. If none of that makes sense, I’ll write a post about how to use SciHub soon. For now, let’s explore the interesting and shockingly effective PBM in a little more detail.
One way to experience PBM is to be outside. The sun gives off various spectrums of light, including red and infrared light. If not for ultraviolet light, that would be enough to heal. Unfortunately, ultraviolet light is the high school bully of light spectrums, ruining the experience for the rest of the spectrums. So being outside leads to skin cancer in addition to healing us.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a way to access the healing spectrums of light, without having to tolerate ultraviolet’s problematic ways? It would need to be cheap, easily mass produced and highly specific in it’s output. Bonus points for prices that fall as manufacturing volume goes up.
Enter LEDs. Unlike throughout history, where PBM was limited to 1. Sunning the sick outside or 2. Incredibly expensive lasers, we now have incredibly cheap LED lights. For enough red and infrared spectrum light to blast your entire body, the cost in 2015 would have been over $20,000. Today, the cost is about $1,500. In five years, it could be more like $100.
The progress in LEDs has made it cheaper to keep a warehouse lit. It means camping no longer requires carefully planning batteries in flashlights. Handy stuff but hardly revolutionary. It also, however, means affordable at home PBM. And that has the potential to change the world.
We’ve talked a bit about what PBM is, does and the economics of it. But the hype train would be incomplete without a stop visiting what PBM does to your body. The mega Sheet with all the research provides a lot of detail. I’ll save you some time and make a list here. Reminder that this is not at all a complete list, just the highest level basics of what it offers in the research.
- Reduce skin inflammation, treating or curing acne, eczema and psoriasis
- Increase collagen, leading to smooth skin, strong hair and clear nails
- Speeds up healing of scars, exercise recovery, wounds and burns
- Increases the density of hair and increases the speed of hair growth
- Reduces or eliminates chronic pain, arthritis and joint pain
- Reduces or deactivates dysfunctional chronic inflammation
- Reduces pain sensitivity and reactivates dormant nerve circuits
- Increases and optimizes energy production in your cells
- Increase testosterone and rebalance other hormones
- Improves sleep quality and duration, as well as time to sleep
- Reduces depression and anxiety symptoms
- Enhances memory recall, processing and reaction time
- Decreases risk of viral infection and reduces intensity and duration of symptoms
I’ll stop there but there are other benefits. Even now, studies on Covid-19 patients have seen significant outcome improvements in under a week with daily treatment. It is almost so boring in how effective it is, it seems to pass over the health fad phase right into boring, routine use.
As I learned about PBM, I got really excited about it, and started to plan an investment. I did a lot of research. There are medical use lasers, high intensity PBM, low intensity PBM, external light panels and headsets that send infrared into your brain. In the end I settled on an external panel from the one and only company with shipping in my country. I suspect in the future it will not be so hard to acquire these products through mainstream channels. For now, you can risk Alibaba, overpay for the one well known brand Joov, or find someone to import a white label version of the Alibaba panels for you. I settled on that option for service to price trade off.
I’m also going to invest in the headset when the time comes. It has gone down in price even since I started to research it, quite materially in fact. It is exciting to think about the impact this technology will be able to have as LEDs continue to drop so aggressively in price. We can pursue less efficient but more time effective and efficacious ways of maintaining good health. I’ll save you some meta joke about Roxanne. Learn more here.